LEFTFIELD @ Metropolis Fremantle gets 9.5/10

LEFTFIELD @ Metropolis Fremantle
Saturday, February 3, 2018


Released at the start of 1995, it’s 23 years on from the release of Leftism – an album that changed the face of dance music and redefined what an electronic produced album could be. Epic in its scope, it’s an undisputed classic, a benchmark, an album DJ Mag once called the greatest dance music album of all time – and as Leftfield blazed through a performance of the album from start to finish last Saturday, it sounded as fresh and vital as ever.

While around the same time, crucial albums from The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim were crossing over and bringing big beat and dance music to the mainstream – Leftfield’s debut opus had more depth, with its unique blend of genre-mashing, stadium-sized, dub-heavy breakbeats, winding atmospherics, MCs and rock vocals.

Originally Leftfield was the core production duo of Neil Barnes and Paul Daley – after two full length albums, they disbanded in 2002. Barnes resurrected Leftfield alone in 2010, and has since released a new album and been touring the world. While previous tours have been met with high praise, this one promised to be something special, with Barnes and his live band performing Leftism in its entirety – and the night surpassed expectations.

Some poor PR threatened to spoil the start of the night for some though – Leftfield were publicised to start at 8.45pm (posters on the walls of the club even proclaimed the same), a very early time for a headline dance act in a nightclub, but if that wasn’t bad enough, for some reason, the band took the stage around half an hour early, leading to some very unhappy punters missing the start of the show.

Ignoring any logistical issues though and onto the performance of the band… There was an electric energy in the room and the floor in front of the stage was packed with an excited and mostly older crowd. Leftfield attract a steadfast, devoted following of fans, discerning music lovers who knew that tonight they were about to witness something very special.

Despite this here reviewer being gutted to miss Leftism‘s amazing opening track Release The Pressure, the word was it was an epic start to the night that immediately captured the crowd’s attention, with that incredible, slowly building intro as rasta MC Earl Sixteen proclaimed, “I’ve just got to find, peace and unity” before the bass drop kicked in.

Afro Left saw Djum Djum take the stage to deliver his vocal chant over the heavy beat, accentuated by Barnes on bongos. A huge track which saw the crowd erupt into frenzied dancing. Some crazy animated visuals really complemented the vibe, and Djum Djum stepped up to a theremin during the track outro and appeared to be weaving sonic magic with his waving hands.

Two songs in and things were already reaching fever pitch. Thankfully next up was the blissed out ambience of Melt, providing some must needed respite, complete with trippy, winding, fractal visuals.

What was so great about this show is unlike some of these ‘classic album’ tours, they played the full album faithfully, from start to finish – which is what the people want. It captures the magic of that album, in the sequence that people have listened to it so many times before. An album that has soundtracked people’s lives.

Having spent the last seven odd years redeveloping his live show, utilising technology that wouldn’t have even existed back when the album was made, Barnes has honed his performance to a fine art. Surrounded by an arsenal of keyboards, he plays a lot of parts live – whilst being backed by the incredible drumming of Nick Rice who uses a special kit that combines live drums with triggered samples, and the additional live production of Adam Wren.

The sound was immaculate: crystal clear, perfectly mixed. Leftfield notoriously were banned from some venues back in the day for exceeding volume thresholds and famously caused plaster to fall from the ceiling of Brixton Academy. Tonight was not quite that intense, but it was definitely loud enough that you felt every beat, every pulsing bass hit reverberate through your body – so that you could fully appreciate their carefully crafted, intricate, layered productions.

Their music has stood the test of time and the songs still sound incredible – timeless and familiar, yet fresh and rejuvenated. Barnes has seemingly remastered them, giving them a sharper focus, a heavier impact, keeping them faithful, but sounding better than ever. What’s striking hearing the full album performance is how cohesive it is as a piece. The tracks gel and flow together, paced perfectly, with ups and downs and builds in all the right places.

The awesome, driving Roland 303 groove and breakdown in Song Of Life was offset by the lush, downtempo beats of Original, which sounded as amazing as ever – unfortunately the gorgeous vocals (originally by Curve’s Toni Halliday) weren’t performed live, but the video with her image was cast on the big screen.

Space Shanty was absolutely massive, sounding bigger than ever, with its scorching acid riffs soaring over the rock solid, throbbing beat. Inspection (Check One) saw old skool rave MC Cheshire Cat prowl on stage and own it, spitting his rhymes over the heavy dub rhythms.

Probably the biggest track from the album, and most famous collaboration, is Open Up featuring the inimitable vocals of John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. Barnes picked up the electric guitar for the more rocking number, with the track sounding as relevant as ever, as Lydon’s voice and likeness on the big screen snarled “Burn Hollywood Burn,” and the older crowd burned up the dancefloor with a huge amount of energy, limbs flailing – showing the kids how it’s done.

As on the album, the set was brought to a magnificent, emotive climax with 21st Century Poem with the dreaded rasta Earl Sixteen returning to deliver the solemn verse over the spaced out atmospheric electronics, as he slowly spun and waved his outstretched arms in an almost spiritual ritual.

The band members made their way to the front of stage to take a well-earned bow, concluding their Australian tour, as Barnes got on the mic, introduced the band and gave heartfelt thanks to the deafening cheers of the crowd who were howling in ecstatic appreciation. “Thank you, we’ve had an absolutely fucking amazing time in Australia. It’s been a wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity to play this album in its entirety.”

While the mess up with the time dampened the start of the night, by the end there was nothing but smiles and happy faces, basking in the glory of a truly special performance. As one man succinctly summed it up in the men’s room, “That was fookin brilliant!” Aye. Indeed it was. A one-off, brilliant, better-than-the-record, live recreation of one of the greatest and most influential albums ever made. Monumental.


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