On a Sunday night rife with anticipation, a chill of unease could be felt at the Hollywood Bowl as the second-to-last show of KCRW’s World Festival began. Throughout the gaping amphitheater, there were concerns that the evening’s dance-heavy show, headlined by U.K. electro wizards The Chemical Brothers, would be hindered by the constrictive layout of the venue.
Indeed, one could say band members Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, along with supporting acts Chromeo and YACHT, went into the evening with the decks stacked against them. If anything, the show would be the ultimate test for each act, gauged by whether or not their respective beats and hooks could coax concertgoers from their assigned seats and terrace boxes.
The festivities started underwhelmingly with YACHT, a Portland electro-pop outfit with an apparent fetish for three-note riffs, poppy sing-alongs and not much else. Despite the band’s somewhat endearing energy, the audience members picked at their picnic dinners and wine while frontman Jona Bechtolt bounced about in a white suit, searching for a few interested souls to grab onto.
By the time Montreal hip-hop all-stars Chromeo took the stage, just after sunset, the venue had filled to capacity and seemed ready to party, with some even rising from their seats to dance. Due credit must go to the infectiously cool stage personas of Dave 1 and P-Thugg, respectively channeling French greasers and Bronx gangsters via dress, noodling away at their vintage synths and shredding guitars without a hint of irony. Between hits like “Bonafied Lovin’,” “Momma’s Boy” and the recently released “Night By Night,” the duo also took turns at making small talk with the enthusiastic crowd.
“We don’t say ‘creampuff,’ we don’t say ‘sweetheart,’ we don’t say ‘girlfriend.’ We say … ‘Tenderoni’,” Dave 1 murmured, before launching into the song. Much of the crowd followed willingly, with cheers and some gyrating hips.
Though Chromeo left the crowd notably more invigorated than YACHT, ending its set at 8:20 p.m., it remained unclear whether the entire bowl would soon be transformed into the usual sea of shimmying body parts that can be witnessed at most Chemical Brothers concerts — in 2000, the duo played to the largest crowd ever seen at England’s legendary Glastonbury Festival.
Coming off a summer of Tchaikovsky and Debussy, it was evident that many of the season pass holders in the crowd had little idea of what sounds to expect from Rowlands and Simons’ hulking island of samplers and synthesizers.
The spectacle opened with something of a false start, as the lights slowly dimmed and The Chemical Brothers emerged from the darkness, backed by the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The applause was surprisingly thin, as if half the bowl had missed the emergence of the two men.
Thankfully, as the first chords of “Galvanize” screamed out across the hillsides, the duo assured the crowd that its entrance would be the only unremarkable aspect of the night.
Backed by a towering LED screen and flanked by neon lasers that traced colorful spider webs across the sky, The Chemical Brothers delivered an earth-shaking set that can be fairly described as brilliant in composition and storytelling, the latter of which is too often neglected at electronic concerts.
The duo began its show with a trio of tracks from Further, its most recent and rightfully acclaimed album. Notable for its absence of guest vocalists (a departure for The Chemical Brothers), the songs, especially the shimmering, Shinichi Osawa-esque “Dissolve” saw the two men build majestic crescendos of guitars amid their usual, house-bumping beats. The crowd appeared both entranced and enlivened.
Once Rowlands and Simons plunged into “Horse Power,” the most obvious banger on the new disc, the dance marathon that many had hoped for truly began. The two seemed to recognize this and prolonged the track with one raging rebuild after another — pushing the crowd, the lightshow, which depicted everything from parades of elephants to dancing apes made of crystal — and the subwoofers to their limits before reclining back into the more meditative classic “Star Guitar.”
This alternation between dance floor destroyers and softer tracks gave the show a cinematic feel, as Rowlands and Simons slowly wrapped their fingers around the pulse of the crowd. Known hits such as “Hey Girl Hey Boy” and “Believe” left spectators gasping, while “Swoon” and “Escape Velocity” lulled them into a non-medicated ecstasy. It is this skill that places The Chemical Brothers alongside legends like Daft Punk and Underworld.
Toward the end of the set, an unsettlingly huge clown face dissolved across the band’s screen, proclaiming, “You are all my children now.” Few in the bowl raised their voices in argument.
The last show of KCRW’s World Festival, titled “Viva Mexico!” will take place Sept. 19, and will celebrate the anniversaries of Mexico’s independence and revolution. Featured artists include Ozomatli, Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles and Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company.