Live Review: The Prodigy & Soft Play // AO Arena, Manchester, 17.11.23

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Renowned for their infectious beats, enthralling electro-punk veins and relentless energy, The Prodigy have been dominating the alternative EDM scene for over three years — dating back to their breakout release Experience in 1992. Regularly releasing new music until 2018’s No Tourists, the Essex outfit took a step back from music after the devastating loss of their frontman Keith Flint just the year after.

With Maxim (aka Keith Palmer) now taking over the limelight role, The Prodigy have been performing concerts in honour of the late Flint, with fans around the globe amassing at venues fit for the homage.

The second night of the Army Of The Ants tour brought The Prodigy to Manchester’s AO Arena for two hours of wall-shaking numbers, impressive light displays, unhinged lively performances and dizzying electronic feats. Opening the stage was none other than Tunbridge Wells natives Soft Play. Previously known as SLAVES, but opting for a more socially-acceptable moniker due to unwanted connotations, the eclectic duo, known for their hi-hat-absent punk rock, played a short yet immersive set that delved into every crevice of their discography.

Opening with their first release since their rebranding, ‘Punk’s Dead’ introduced the arena to their well-refined brand of hardcore punk that comes matched with equally frenetic performances. Slicing guitars accompany tongue-in-cheek replies to their haters in succinctly punk-fashion (“What the f**k’s with the new name anyway? / Soft play? More like soft c****”), before quickly back-tracking to 2015 with fan-favourite ‘Sockets‘.

It wasn’t long into ‘White Knuckle Ride’ before guitarist Laurie Vincent had a charge of energy and proceeded to bounce around stage in true Soft Play Fashion, as Isaac Holman screeched lyrics reminiscent of London punk legends the Sex Pistols. Rounding off with ‘Beauty Quest’ and ‘The Hunter’, Soft Play ended their set leaving no sonic stone unturned and an electrically charged atmosphere apt for the emergence of The Prodigy.

Fashionably late, but forgivably so, the arena erupted as members of The Prodigy slowly filtered onto stage — but this would be the last time of the show any of them were seen moving at a pace anything less than sprinting. The sheer breadth of the band’s discography meant they had ample hit tunes to pick from when selecting the setlist, and at nineteen tracks and just over an hour long, the crowd wasn’t left disappointed. There wasn’t a single point in the set where the room dropped in energy, with crowdsurfers, drinks being thrown, and plenty of crowd ejections; it’s safe to say the arena exploded with frenetic, uncontainable energy.

With the opening bars of ‘Breathe’, the crowd immediately roared as Maxim emphatically delved into “Breathe the pressure / Come play my game, I’ll test ya / Psychosomatic, addict, insane” that was instantaneously echoed back by the punk-rage-fuelled crowd.

Clearly a fan-favourite by the crowd’s reaction, with strobe-lights-aplenty ‘Omen’ immediately filled the arena with adrenaline-fuelled instrumentation, accompanied by wall-vibrating melodies and powerful bass-dominated beats. Maxim’s enthusiasm is evident; his movements completely unpredictable and hard to pin down, the crowd’s eyes and bodies dart rapidly just to keep up with his performance, at no detriment to the dancing of those around them.

Not letting the energy die down for even a second, ‘Light Up The Sky’ quickly follows with its explosive acid rock-infused rave soundscape as Maxim provides a lyrical narrative almost subtitling the current events (“Here come the dance we instigate / Light up the sky, illuminate”). Teetering on dub-step, the ferocious cut stood as the first track to be released from 2018’s No Tourists and signalled the outfit’s new approach to their tried-and-tested electro style.

The remainder of the band’s set consisted of an impressive variety of tracks, from the world-famous ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, tour debut of ‘Diesel Power’, dangerous, and twisted ‘Firestarter’ and the thrilling ‘Roadblox’.

The Prodigy may be without their frontman, but their performance and perseverance as a band are doing their utmost to ensure that Keith Flint’s legacy lives on.

Words and photos by Lana Williams


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