Live: The Prodigy Wear White and Keep Moving at Roseland
Thursday, March 26
None of the nu-rave hipster cachet of opener Busy P, a solid decade since an MTV spin, the half-decent new Invaders Must Die LP that couldn't crack Billboard's Top 50--just who exactly is Prodigy's American audience? A quick glance around the totally packed, totally amped Roseland Ballroom suggests a lot of aging club rats (dudes, where do you even buy glowsticks anymore?). And then there's the sweater-vested guy who brought what looked like a one-year-old in a stroller(!), and who proceeded to bloody the nose of the security guard that tried to get them to leave. But mostly, the show was made up of tee-shirt-and-jeans folks who still love the Prodigy as they would any rock band they grew up with. And I say "rock band" because a Prodigy show is run like a rock show: no laundry list of DJs playing until all hours of the night, a goony live guitarist and a drummer you can't hear replacing that guy who did the Charlie Brown dances, and more camera phones shutterbugging in the front row than Gui Boratto gets on a whole tour.
Their two best songs--"Breathe" and "Poison"--were played within the first five of the set. Their unequivocal biggest hit, "Firestarter," was over within in the first half. They can afford to do this because Liam Howlett is still a DJ at heart, knowing the right peaks, valleys, moods and tempos to build a show--even if all they come with the subtlety of a dumptruck full of squirming bugs. The crowd screamed and jumped and bobbed approvingly at every single song: whether it's their all-time iTunes best-seller (go figure) "Smack My Bitch Up," or the squiggly new "Omen." Maybe because almost every Prodigy song is about a single moment of pure, chest-caving release that occurs early and repeats often, an exact moment when the warm-up blips and bloops make a left turn into insta-heavy-metal: 59 seconds into "Breathe," 26 seconds into "Voodoo People," 24 seconds into "Firestarter," 21 seconds into "Poison." It's like a drug that never loses its effects no matter how many times you use it. The constant strobe light effects also helped.
Keith Flint, looking more and more like Cyberpunk-era Billy Joel, embodied those John Lydon comparisons--all improv screeching and whinging in between the choruses. When other-frontman Maxim Reality took the mic from Flint--or vice-versa--they jogged around, or ran in place. Flint often spun around like a helicopter; after all these years he still seemed to embody Hank Shocklee's advice to Flavor Flav in the earliest days of Public Enemy: "Just wear white and keep moving." And the Prodigy keep moving with him. Nu-ravers be damned, invaders must die.--Christopher R. Weingarten