The sweat’s dripping off the Tripod walls but MC Djum Djum is bringing Big Freeze chic indoors – bouncing around the stage in a puffy parka jacket. It’s a half an hour in and his frantic African scat singing is whipping the crowd into a frenzy while the frazzled marimba samples on ‘Afro-Left’ take us back 15 years. There’s life in this techno heritage act yet – Leffield’s hulking comeback show has docked in Ireland six times this year, including a triumphant Picnic headliner. These two Tripod shows are the last dates on the tour, and Saturday’s gig sold out weeks ago. Keeping up tradition, there’s been a motley crew of guests in tow – a full live set-up with crackpot MCs and singers, drums, djembes, melodicas, guitars, MacBooks and racks of synths.
The classic ‘Liveism’ troupe from back in the day is missing Neil Barnes’ other half Paul Daley, and many questioned whether one half of a duo was indeed a comeback – but Leftfield’s show was always much more than two bobbing heads a la Orbital. When MC Cheshire Cat hollers “Everyt’ing ship-shape” on an epic ‘Inspection (Check One)’, you know he’s hit the nail on the head – amid all the mud-slinging about greasy palm comebacks, overkill and tainted legacies, you just remember these tunes never went in or out of fashion. Everyone reading this has a copy of Leftism lying around somewhere – on their iPod, in an old CD wallet or on a tape in their glove compartment. Leftfield’s 1995 debut album was the perfect crossover; a beginner’s stepping stone into punked-up techno, spacey dub and weirdo ethnic house without the hippie world music trappings. Leftfield at Tripod brings State back to our first ‘Liveism’ epiphany in the Ulster Hall in 1996 – it’s a Leftism run-through bar two tracks, a different beast to the dark dub workout of their pre-split Rhythm and Stealth tour in 2000.
They take their time too – the watery deep house piped through the Tripod speakers is driving people to drink and by the time Barnes and his drummer and programmer arrive at 10pm (late for Tripod), there’s a fair few drunk 30-somethings knocking into each other. ‘Song of Life’ is ushered in with submerged synth whooshes and Barnes’ eerie melodica for five minutes, before the cavernous bass ruptures the speakers and the kick drum comes in like a boot in the chest. With Leftism hardwired into everyone’s DNA, it’s an easy crowd tonight – especially when Earl Sixteen comes out of the wings to sing ‘Release the Pressure’, beaming that big smile while Barnes tears the arse out of his bass and the ‘peace and unity’ lyrics flash up on the big screen. We also get a reworked dubby version of ‘Storm 3000’ with bonkers toasting from Cheshire Cat, who really does look like he’s just back from a smack deal down at the Liffey Boardwalk.
It’s not all hands-in-the-air euphoria though – Jess Mills’ sweet voice can’t really save ‘Original’ from knocking the set off course with a plodding trip-hop interlude. If only they’d swap it for ‘Open Up’, even without a cackling John Lydon. It’s the only real bum note though – anthems like the jangly techno of ‘Space Shanty’ steer us back in the right direction in no time.
Even though the set is weighted towards Leftism, the two darker tracks from Rhythm and Stealth are the highlights – with the pummelling vocoder electro-funk of ‘Afrika Shox’ accompanied by a 20ft mouth on the big screen lip-syncing Afrika Bambaataa’s warped rhymes. And you can never underestimate ‘Phat Planet’, with the bassline to beat them all – a bassline that sounds like it’s coming from inside a volcano, rumbling incessantly for five minutes before the kick drum rattles around Tripod like a grenade going off in an oil drum. It’s an intense encore, then we’re brought back down with the blissed-out ‘Melt’ oozing out of the PA while the crew take a bow. They deserve it too – Leftfield Mk II have just about pulled off this comeback caper. So what if it’s a shameless nostalgia trip – State went to both nights and we’d do it all again.