Tales of the performance prowess of electronica vets The Prodigy have been passed around since the heady arena and festival days of The Fat of the Land. Impart that legend to a local fanbase that hasn’t seen the British big-beat trio in, well, ever, and expectations immediately jump to the level of rapture. And yet when the group visited Philadelphia behind new album Invaders Must Die, if you stood away from the gleefully oblivious fratboy moshing, you could sense that one fan’s treasure was another fan’s trash.
The best parts of The Prodigy’s catalog involve the strategic application of too much of a good thing. “Warriors Dance” from the new album and “Out of Space” from first album Experience, off-kilter vocal samples and all, translated well to the Electric Factory stage. So did a rousing rendition of “Firestarter,” as close to an actual verse-chorus-verse song as they ever recorded in spite of its wailing loops.
Apart from these few instances, through, The Prodigy seemingly left that stage sensibility back at the hotel. In particular, their vocalists simply didn’t know when to quit. Keith Flint is the pierced public face of the group thanks to his late-’90s music-video posturing, but his concert persona has been softened by time (and possibly sobriety) to where onstage exhortations during songs like “Comanche” turned into effete pirouettes and the Jennifer Beals run-in-place routine from Flashdance.
Rapper/toaster Maxim, on the other hand, supplemented planned vocals on tracks like “Omen” with antics both incessant and embarrassing. It’s one thing to be a hype man over the mostly instrumental “Invaders Must Die;” especially in Philly, it’s another thing altogether to shout out to your fans from New York. You almost wished for one moment during the show when Maxim and Flint would just shut up, wait in the wings, and give Prodigy mastermind Liam Howlett a chance to bounce around his keyboards undistracted, letting a powerhouse track like “Take Me to the Hospital” roam free. It never happened, and the night was poorer for it.
Other shortcomings cropped up through the show as well. Kool Keith’s “Diesel Power” rap was distressingly reduced to a one-line sample. The live drummer and guitarist seemed alternately miked-up and piped-in. Venue acoustics swallowed killer riffs like those in “Breathe.” Even Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned was ignored, and as bad as that album was the short setlist could still have used “Girls” or “Spitfire.” Despite the OMG PRODIGY’S HERE energy, on this night The Prodigy forgot how to accurately measure out their musical aggression.