Live Review: The Prodigy – Manchester

Live Review: The Prodigy - AO Arena, Manchester
17th November 2023
Words: Dan Barnes

If someone would have said to me, back in the mid-Nineties, when I was the only Rock fan among a workforce of Dance-music nuts, that I’d not only be watching The Prodigy one day, but loving the show, I’d have given them one of those quizzical looks you get from your wife. But I feel I’d be missing out on one of the most visceral life band experiences if I’d have turned down the opportunity, so it’s off to the Arena in Manchester, as much out of curiosity as anything else.

Although The Prodigy started life as Liam Howlett’s Rave project back as the Eighties became the Nineties and the country was in protest over the incoming Criminal Justice Act 1991 which looked to criminalize the burgeoning Rave culture. Over time the band grew and reached a wider audience through solid albums and regular touring, hitting the mainstream with the 1996 hits Firestarter and Breathe, and the controversial Smack My Bitch Up and its promo video.

By the turn of the Millenium The Prodigy had found themselves on all manner of musical events away from the Dance scene, getting much kickback from their first Download Festival show in 2009, and even more three years later when the second stage headline turned into a mainstage one and they topped the bill with Metallica and Black Sabbath.

Yet, if we love heavy music because it evokes a reaction within the primal part of the brain, then The Prodigy’s music, with its ripping beats, screeching volume and searing lights trigger the same senses.

There’s a real feeling of anticipation around the Arena tonight for this Army of Ants Tour, as it will be the first major UK trek since the undeniably heavy loss of the icon Keith Flint in 2019. As soon as the opening notes of Breathe kick in the place goes crazy. Every inch of the Arena’s floor is moving and Maxim does an impressive job of holding it all together, firing up the crowd as required.

Even though Omen is from 2009 it has a old school vibe about it, the response back to the stage is the equal to any Rock show you care to name. Voodoo People gets the Jilted Generation on their feet and the energy generated in the room could power the venue. The only time I felt out of my comfort zone was during Experience’s Everybody in the Place, as pure a Club anthem as you’ll hear tonight.

Firestarter was accompanied by an outline of Keith busting his moves on the screen. No lyrics, only the music of Mr Flint’s signature song, letting everyone in attendance spend time with their personal recollections and memories of the man. It was as fitting a tribute as can be paid. Their Law goes out to everyone in the building and sees the floor bouncing; the following No Good (Start to Dance)’s fast beat manages to unleash even more of the unbridled energy that was already flooding the room.

My voluntary entry point to the band came on 2015’s The Day Is My Enemy and we got a couple from that disc, Roadblox and Get Your Fight On, the former of which saw a circle pit developing in the middle of the floor, and the latter showcasing guitarist Rob Holliday’s chops; he’s slung strings for Gary Numan, The Mission and Marilyn Manson in the past, so has plenty of pedigree in that department.

Liam’s mastery of his synths and samples is the heart of the show, all underpinned by the huge percussion of Leo Crabtree on the kit. There’s not many drummers earn their gig corn more than Leo on the evidence of this show. A flavour of the Clockwork Orange main theme takes us into the slower tempos of Poison, before revving up again for Need Some1.

The main set finishes with the anthemic Smack My Bitch Up and, although I might have avoided catching the ‘rona over the last four years or so, I was a slave to the infectious beats and driving nature of this stone cold classic.

What’s an arena headliner without the fake out of leaving to stage to come back for the encore? If the energy in the room was red lining by this point it was about to be cranked up to eleven. Take Me to the Hospital sees every hand in the place in the air, Invaders Must Die lands with a reckless abandon, a rare outing for Diesel Power is followed by We Live Forever and the finale of Out of Space depressurises the building.

While I admit I’m more at home with Metalheads and Punks, it was telling to see and feel the reaction of Dance and Electronic music fans to this performance. The Prodigy are clearly outstanding in their field and the audience reaction would have been the same if you were in with a Maiden, DC or Metallica crowd. Proof positive that, even though we have differing tastes in music, there is more that unites us all than divides us.

A great metaphor for the world. Now, if we could just stop ourselves from being Pied Piper’d into hating everyone else, that would be a start.

Live Review: The Prodigy – Manchester

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