I must admit that there was a brief moment in time somewhere between "Push The Button" (2005) and "We Are The Night" (2007) when I was pretty worried that the Chemical Brothers had somehow lost their mojo. But starting with 2010's career-best "Further" and continuing with their excellent score for the movie "Hanna" last year, the Chems have proven that they are currently the best they have ever been.
The new live set, "Don't Think," firmly cements that point, capturing an amazing live performance in Japan. The CD is coupled with your choice of a DVD or a Blu-ray and proves to be just as stunning and enveloping visually. You feel like you are in the crowd as you watch insanely amazing images flash before your eyes. It's essentially a rave.
Over the course of the 79-minute disc and the 88-minute film, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands weave through their hits with ease. The lighting and the images are miraculously and meticulously well-timed with the music, even when you know the groove is being manipulated in drastically different ways from the way it sounded on the original record. Sometimes they combine tracks together. Near the end of the concert, Q-Tip's vocals from "Galvanize" are thrown over their 1996 single, "Leave Home," and the two tracks sound excellent together.
It's evident when you watch them in action that the Chemical Brothers look less up to your traditional house-music DJs and more toward the forefathers of hip-hop turntablism. They may be maneuvering machines and manipulating soundbites, but they aren't there just sitting on the groove. They firmly believe in the spectacle. They may be making dance music but they come across as if they are trying to give you the coolest rock show possible with some hip-hop mechanical knowhow.
Let's face it. They are masters of the big-beat sub-genre. Add in the artistic images projected in back of them and you have a true "happening." The people in the crowd are left mesmerized, often with expressions of true awe and joy. (Of course, then a scary clown face - or three - appears and they look momentarily frightened out of their wits. The scariest moment occurs when a large clown face mouths the words, "You are all my children now!" These words are said in a slowed-down, highly digitized voice. Truly terrifying if you are like me and are afraid of clowns. But I digress. ) In any case, it's unlikely, barring the use of outside substances, that this will be a show that any of its actual audience members will ever forget.
In the live setting the tracks from "Further," in particular, really bloom. "Horse Power" is a deep, acid-house, wonderfully claustrophobic jam. There's no room to do anything but dance. "Swoon," is just truly a gorgeous track, showcasing what the Brothers can do at their most whimsical. Here it is expertly merged with their classic "Star Guitar." "Another World," which opens the set, is a chilled, yet lush bossanova that turns into a comfortable electro-groove, once it is given room to open up and breathe.
If I have one complaint, it's rather minor. Only two tracks from 1999's "Surrender" are played. (The two tracks are "Out of Control" and "Hey Boy Hey Girl.") I consider that to be one of their better albums and would have also liked to have seen them play with the psychedelic beat from "Let Forever Be." Oh, well.
When they close the set with their signature hit, "Block Rockin' Beats," the results are immense. This is especially true toward the end of the track when they tweak and dissect the song's individual elements until it warps into a wash of sonic electro-ray gun feedback. The few seconds when they playfully mess with the beat are alone worth the price of admission.
In short, "Don't Think" is a no-brainer of a masterpiece. It proves that an excellent, compelling live electronic album can not only be made, but also enjoyed at full blast in one's living room. Drum machines and samplers are, after all, musical instruments, and the Chemical Brothers play around with these devices flawlessly.
Don't think. Just listen and watch as the music and images wash over you.