The Prodigy and Soft Play were in town on November 21st.
Life depends upon change and renewal. Whether it’s self-imposed or forced upon you, change is inevitable but it’s how you manage it that matters.
In Soft Play’s case, they’ve dealt with it head-on. The inevitable backlash on Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent’s decision to ditch their old name – which they felt, ‘didn’t represent who we are as people or what our music stands for any longer’ – is covered in pre-emptive, snook-cocking single Punk’s Dead which opens tonight’s support slot. Cutting off all criticisms at the pass, its wry sarcasm (delivered with nothing less than sneering virility, as per) is perhaps their finest hour to date (although sadly Robbie Williams is nowhere to be found) and bodes well for what comes next.
Otherwise, they’ve lost no power in the rebrand, with the relentless brutality omnipresent across their no-frills 8-song set which largely draws from debut album Are You Satisfied?.
Both Holman and Vincent have suffered in their personal lives over the last few years, yet that (and their forays as Baby Dave and Larry Pink The Human respectively) have galvanized the duo. During White Knuckle Ride, Holman apishly jumps into the crowd as if the stage cannot contain him, while later he drily admits: ‘There’s a reason there’s only two of us. When me and Laurie started the band no one else wanted to join. That’s it, really.’
Their visceral ferocity makes them kindred spirits with The Prodigy who, after an impressively high-octane DJ set from Radio One’s Jack Saunders, open with a brief but typically brutal Breathe, the lowest-key moment in the set.
The tragic loss of Keith Flint back in 2019 must have cast doubts over the future of the group, but based on this evidence their assessment must have been: let’s keep doing it in Keith’s name, but harder. Where Maxim and Flint used to prowl and pounce around the stage in conjunction there is undeniably a void, but the former MC takes on the added responsibility with both aplomb and respect.
He judges which vocal gaps to fill respectfully and tastefully while still delivering his own lines with his trademark venom, ensuring that their old friend may be gone but is never forgotten. Indeed, Firestarter is a full-on tribute to Flint, with his iconic silhouette from the video filling the big screens while the ‘eyes’ of a 30-foot statue at the back of the venue ‘fire’ lasers across the stage. It would be tear-inducing were it not for the sheer power of the song, undimmed by 27 years’ exposure.
And, if it needed reminding, power is what The Prodigy are all about. Liam Howlett remains the architect behind his gargantuan desk at the centre of the stage, while live contributors Rob Holliday (guitar) and Leo Crabtree (drums) pound and strangle their instruments respectively. The sheer brute force of their offerings is devastating.
Of course, to have such a rich back catalogue to draw from helps, with a career-spanning set taking in cuts from debut Experience right through to No Tourists from 2018 (although 2004’s underrated Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned remains the black sheep). Voodoo People’s instantly recognisable riff is a rallying cry, Their Law feels more topical than ever and Light Up The Sky is skull-crushing.
To ensure the momentum is maintained, most tracks are truncated, with 20 tracks represented in 80 euphoric minutes but even then, it’s a masterclass of anticipation, only allowing seconds to draw breath before another pile-driving drop.
Classics these songs may be, but the show feels very contemporary. Smack My Bitch Up, which was problematic even in 1997, remains head-numbingly undiluted by simply removing the title from the vocals. Simple. The encore consists of a wired Take Me To The Hospital, a tribal Warrior’s Dance, a ribcage-shattering Diesel Power, the defiant We Live Forever and their calling card Out Of Space, which culminates in another magnificent laser show. It’s all too much from an act who have never been anything less than pulverising.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Long live The Prodigy.