THE PRODIGY + SOFT PLAY – BRIGHTON CENTRE 20.11.23
The Prodigy were back in action in Brighton after an absence of 1841 days, when they appeared at the Brighton Centre on date four of eight on their ‘Army Of Ants Tour’. Not surprisingly, all of the concert tickets were eagerly snapped up in advance as indicated on the band’s tour poster on social media on 9th November. Having already entertained fans in Glasgow, Manchester and Leeds, it was now our turn to see what this famed electronic dance music outfit had to offer us.
I attended their previous Brighton gig (on 5th November 2018) with my eldest son and it was a truly memorable evening. Although we didn’t realise it at the time, this sadly would be our final encounter with their charismatic frontman Keith Flint, as a mere 119 days later on 4th March 2019 he was found dead at his home in Essex. This was a bolt out of the blue and I can recall being in shock when I heard the announcement on that morning. It was just as surprising as previously hearing of the loss of The Shamen’s Will Sinnott who drowned whilst swimming off the coast of La Gomera in the Canary Islands on 23rd May 1991. I certainly hadn’t expected to see either The Shamen or The Prodigy performing live ever again, but then out of the ashes the phoenix’s rose again.
Unbelievable as it may sound, The Prodigy have been going no less than 33 years! They came about when the then 18-year-old DJ, musician, and songwriter Liam Howlett returned to his hometown of Braintree, Essex after quitting his gig as DJ in the hip-hop group Cut to Kill. This was back in 1989 and at one of his gigs at The Barn nightclub Howlett met Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill. Flint requested Howlett make a mixtape for him, to which Howlett obliged and returned a cassette several days later with some of his own songs on the other side. Howlett had scratched the word “Prodigy” onto the cassette, referring to the Moog Prodigy synthesizer which he used to make some of the music. The tape was well received by Flint and Thornhill, who developed new dance sequences to the music and suggested to Howlett they begin a group together. The three settled on The Prodigy as their name and enlisted a fourth live member, female dancer and vocalist Sharky, a friend of Flint’s; the group officially formed on 5th October 1990. Seven studio albums followed: ‘Experience’ (1992), ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ (1994), ‘The Fat Of The Land’ (1997), ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’ (2004), ‘Invaders Must Die’ (2009), ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ (2015) and ‘No Tourists’ (2018). Such is the success of the band, that all of the albums hit the Official UK Albums Charts pole position, with the exception of their 1992 debut ‘Experience’, which stalled at No.12, but nonetheless was extremely impressive for a first studio album! Eleven of their singles have crashed the Top 10 of the Official Singles Chart with ‘Firestarter’ and follow up ‘Breathe’ both reaching No.1 in 1996.
With no new material having been dropped since Keith Flint’s untimely passing, I was wondering what The Prodigy were going to be playing for their set at the Brighton Centre and how on earth would they address losing such an integral member of the unit. I was about to find out shortly after 9:30pm this evening, 9:33pm to be precise.
The quartet of live gig Prodigy members consisting of Liam Howlett and Maxim aided by Rob Holliday and Leo Crabtree arrived on stage after the notes of the intro tape of The Horrors track ‘New Ice Age’ from 2009’s ‘Primary Colours’ album had finished. The lighting rig above the band was immense and that wasn’t the only immense thing in the arena this evening, as facing the stage from the back of the hall by the mixing desk was a giant statue which was like a raver version of Gort, the humanoid robot that appeared in the 1951 science fiction film ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’. This new version dwarfed the crowd on the ground floor and stood higher than those in the front rows upstairs! Myself and my colleague were rather impressed, but there was to be more…..
The band kicked off with ‘Breathe’ (from 1997’s ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album) and a whole sea of mobile phones were held aloft in order to catch each individual’s snippet of the happening. The head image of the statute was mirrored on the rear screens behind the band. As you would expect from a Prodigy concert, the sound quality was immense and the lighting was spectacular, in fact, I would go so far as to state that tonight’s lighting was the best I have witnessed all year, and I’ve been to loads of gigs!
Selection two featured the earworm lyrics “The writing’s on the wall; It won’t go away”, this of course was ‘Omen’ from 2009’s ‘Invaders Must Die’ album. The lighting was a devil red colour and the drums sounded absolutely immense and when I say immense, I mean IMMENSE! The keys were sounding great as well, with the guitar work on top. The five large flags hanging to the rear of the stage added to the atmosphere. The slower chugging ‘Voodoo People’ from 1994’s ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ album was up next and swiftly followed by the ‘Firestarter-esque’ ‘Light Up The Sky’ (from 2018’s ‘No Tourists’ album), with the “Radiate; Ten thousand degrees” lyrics. After which the bright white lights were shining out over and onto the crowd for ‘Climbatize’ (from 1997’s ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album). This segued straight into the classic ‘Everybody In The Place’ (from 1991’s ‘Where Evil Lurks’ EP as well as their 1992 ‘Experience’ album) and then they were briefly back to ‘Omen (Reprise)’ (from 2009’s ‘Invaders Must Die’ album).
It’s at this point in the performance where everything went into sensory overload. It was the turn of ‘Firestarter’ (from 1997’s ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album) and it’s here when suddenly our eyes were drawn to Gort as a green lazerbeam came shooting out of his visor and straight onto the rear screen behind the band. The lazer expanded into a moving image of Keith Flint and other green lazers fired out across the whole expansive room. It was one of the most impressive things I have ever witnessed at a concert! I won’t forget it. This version of ‘Firestarter’ was almost an instrumental version, but it’s then that I decided to christen the statue “Giant Keef”. I make notes during the performances in order to give you in-depth vibes of the gigs, and my notes for this track read “f*cking epic lazers”, as the hairs on my arms stood to attention, so I think you get the point.
The vibe became drum and bass central with the arrival of ‘Roadblox’ (from 2015’s ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ album), which was another decent tune. Next, for ‘Their Law’ (from 1994’s ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ album), the bass sounds came booming out of the many speakers and hit another level and for the first time tonight, I swear the soundwaves were pounding my chest and the tips of the hair on my head was literally fizzing with the rushes of air. The amazing thing with this, was that we weren’t down the front by the stage, but in fact in the front row of the balcony, and we were still hit with the blasts! Very impressive stuff indeed!
My favourite Prodigy number was next, in the form of the banging ‘No Good (Start The Dance)’ (from 1994’s ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ album), which rattled along at bullet pace. Choooon! The heavy metal riffage of ‘Get Your Fight On’ (from 2015’s ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ album) was up next and followed by the rumbling ‘Poison’ (from 1994’s ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ album), which benefited from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ intro, which was also utilised by Sigue Sigue Sputnik back in the day. After ‘Need Some1’ (from 2018’s ‘No Tourists’ album), they closed the main set with ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ (from 1997’s ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album), with its Nitzer Ebb sounding keyboard delivery and again chest thumping bass notes. “Giant Keef” was in action again and omitted a purple lazer this time around. There was a wailing women’s vocal during the time of the lazer and this reminded me of Ofra Haza. It was 10:33pm and the lads left the stage.
We clapped, stamped and screamed and they returned a minute later and gave us no less than a handful of tracks, beginning with the typical Prodigy sounding thumping bass mixed with rave keys for ‘Take Me To The Hospital’ (from 2009’s ‘Invaders Must Die’ album), which for me was another set highlight. The title track of the same album was up next and “Giant Keef” gave us a red lazer this time around. The music on this number was more heavy duty rave but with the energy of the infamous KLF vs Extreme Noise Terror Brits performance. Another chugger followed in the form of ‘Diesel Power’ (from 1997’s ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album), after which we were served another raver, namely ‘We Live Forever’ (from 2018’s ‘No Tourists’ album), which reminded me of Fatboy Slim’s ‘Right Here, Right Now’, on the account of the similar lyrics: “We’re here, it’s now; We live forever; The time has come; We live forever”. The Prodigy signed off with ‘Out Of Space’ (from 1992’s ‘Experience’ album), which started more like Kraftwerk’s ‘Pocket Calculator’, but this version quickly sped up and up. So much so that it ended before both myself and my colleague had estimated. At 10:54pm they were done! In summing up…They came, they played, they conquered! A MUST SEE live band! RIP Keef x.
Liam Howlett – keyboards, synthesizers, programming, production, sampling, sequencing, drum machine (1990–present)
Maxim – vocals (1991–present)
Current live musicians:
Rob Holliday – guitars, bass (2005–2006, 2008–2017, 2022–present)
Leo Crabtree – drums, percussion (2008–present)
The Prodigy setlist:
(Intro music) ‘New Ice Age’ The Horrors
‘Breathe’ (from 1997 ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album)
‘Omen’ (from 2009 ‘Invaders Must Die’ album)
‘Voodoo People’ (from 1994 ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ album)
‘Light Up The Sky’ (from 2018 ‘No Tourists’ album)
‘Climbatize’ (from 1997 ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album)
‘Everybody In The Place’ (from 1991 ‘Where Evil Lurks’ EP + 1992 ‘Experience’ album)
‘Omen (Reprise)’ (from 2009 ‘Invaders Must Die’ album)
‘Firestarter’ (from 1997 ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album)
‘Roadblox’ (from 2015 ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ album)
‘Their Law’ (from 1994 ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ album)
‘No Good (Start The Dance)’ (from 1994 ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ album)
‘Get Your Fight On’ (from 2015 ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ album)
‘Poison’ (from 1994 ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ album)
‘Need Some1’ (from 2018 ‘No Tourists’ album)
‘Smack My Bitch Up’ (from 1997 ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album)
‘Take Me To The Hospital’ (from 2009 ‘Invaders Must Die’ album)
‘Invaders Must Die’ (from 2009 ‘Invaders Must Die’ album)
‘Diesel Power’ (from 1997 ‘The Fat Of The Land’ album)
‘We Live Forever’ (from 2018 ‘No Tourists’ album)
‘Out Of Space’ (from 1992 ‘Experience’ album)
Kicking off the night and interspersed in between the two bands was DJ Jack Saunders who was offering up a host of drum and bass numbers aimed at getting the punters in the mood. He succeeded!
The support act for the tour, or should I say special guests, were none other than punk rock outfit Soft Play (which is stylised in all caps). This duo consists of Isaac Holman (lead vocals, drums) and Laurie Vincent (backing vocals, guitar, bass) and were formerly known as Slaves up until December last year. They hail from Royal Tunbridge Wells, or as bassist Laurie put it second time around tonight “We’re a boy band from the Garden of England”. I can’t print what they first said! They changed their name to Soft Play after deciding that their original name had unwanted connotations. They stated “The name ‘Slaves’ is an issue [and] doesn’t represent who we are as people or what our music stands for any longer”.
As Slaves, the duo released a trio of studio albums, ‘Are You Satisfied?’ (2015), ‘Take Control’ (2016) and ‘Acts Of Fear And Love’ (2018). All three crashed into the Official Albums Charts, as No.8, No.6 and No.8 respectively. Their new 2023 single is ‘Punk’s Dead’ and this can be located HERE.
They graced us with their presence a minute earlier than planned and kicked off at 8:14pm and 32 minutes later (at 8:46pm) they were done. They addressed us with a “Good evening Brighton” and were away. I particularly liked the fact that Isaac plays the drums and cymbals in a standing position and steps from side to side when hitting them, which adds to the effect, and he certainly gives them a good old hiding. Laurie from the off makes good use of the stage area (as did Maxim of The Prodigy), but Laurie was down in the photographers pit and crowd barrier from the second number. Not to be outdone, Isaac followed suit not long afterwards and even headed off into the crowd too as far as the long microphone lead would reach, whilst requesting “Would you be so kind to move out my way”. This was for their tune ‘F*ck The Hi-Hat’, which ranks a ten on the crowd participation chart!
Their energetic punk tunes are akin to the likes of Royal Blood and the crowd really enjoyed their music and very energetic set. They would be a great choice to again headline the Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool, where they last appeared back in 2017. Long overdue methinks!
At one stage this evening, Laurie arched his torso right back whilst still playing his bass guitar and then eventually hit the deck, whereupon he kicked his instrument right across the stage. Isaac on the other hand often lets his drumsticks go on the final bash on a few tunes, which looks really cool and signifies “there you go punters, take that!”. There were clearly many Soft Play fans in this evening as a circle pit formed near the front of the crowd and then they moshed. The lads more or less shared vocal duties and on one occasion Isaac’s delivery reminded me of Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke. Overall, they were an energetically impressive special guest and their lighting was rather decent as well. Clearly they weren’t being short changed by The Prodigy and were allowed to shine. If this Slaves reboot choose to return to Brighton, then certainly count me in! This too was a great performance!
Isaac Holman – lead vocals, drums
Laurie Vincent – backing vocals, guitar, bass
Soft Play (presumed) setlist:
‘White Knuckle Ride’
‘F*ck The Hi-Hat’
‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth’