Having sold upwards of a million records, their 2005 best of compilation The Singles certified double platinum in their native UK, on top of two nights at the O2 Academy Brixton, local blokes Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe have been doing their thing, and doing it rather well for decades already. Thus as they return to home turf for the first of those two shows aforesaid, to paraphrase a single from ’03 LP Kish Kash, you would envisage them needing little luck in getting the hordes well on side. It’s Friday night, after all. But it don’t mean a thing if they ain’t got that swing, and to filch another title from that same album, on a nippy evening, Basement Jaxx alas, blow Hot ’n Cold right throughout.
Jimmy Cliff’s I Can See Clearly Now blares over the Academy PA, achieving little, other than to enrage the impatience swelling within. The wait, it must be said, swiftly becomes pretty tedious with a budget lunar backdrop one of drastically few focal points. But then, as the empowering Power 2 The People flares up, a panoply of vibrancy begins: abiding vocalist Vula Malinga, enrobed in typically fluorescent regalia, appears upon the upper balcony, belting out the track’s explicitly egalitarian refrain; Buxton, rainbow toga in tow, claps and thwacks his machines with raw vigour; Ratcliffe cuts and thrusts stage-right, while a trumpeter masquerading as a dextrous raven plays away on its opposing side. The lights, bright, bedazzle while that which booms from the speakers proves more luminous still. The compulsive Mandela tribute ensues, Buxton announcing: “We’re all in this together!” and for the moment, in this very moment, few would likely nullify such a sentiment of undying unity. Good Luck, dolled up to the nines and truly divine tonight, does likewise.
There are none of the violent nor caustic undertones to besmirch many a contemporary dance event, with the lights nigh on always up to thus promote said oneness. Indeed, in many respects, a Basement Jaxx performance is perhaps the very antithesis of the usual saucer-eyed amphetamine-athon, in that every element of a carnivalesque Red Alert is reproduced live to inspired effect. There’s as much movement onstage as there is off it, with a similarly jittery redux filtering through the room, a Balkan breakdown swiftly followed up by a mildly superfluous breaks interlude. Back 2 The Wild meanwhile, all vividly Amazonian heft, suggests they’ve plenty more where these early bangers came from in their back pockets, before another neon-daubed segue proceeds the recent single. Red sticks flicker as greenish suits glow, the music itself equal parts Julio Bashmore and Shakira’s Whenever, Wherever. Back 2 The Wild’s condemnatory-cum-celebratory lyrical crux, “It’s a freak show!”, resounds with a real clarity that’s hitherto unprecedented, and of course befits the naturally abnormal environs of Brixton. Fluoro cowboy hats flail in the crowd, and again, Basement Jaxx’ unrivalled ability to transform quirky abnormality into communal celebration should be reverenced at length for as long as the duo should live out their livelihood.
But Buxton and Ratcliffe certainly aren’t without their foibles, and they make these only too manifest tonight: while SW9 has long since been rightly deemed a meeting place for nascent gig-goers, a squelchy Rendez-Vu does little to make you yearn to return for a second helping tomorrow evening; a choppy, inconsistent What A Difference Your Love Makes is found drastically lacking as well, led as it is by a sort of East End take on Drake who overdramatises some excessively heavy beats; while another new one, House Scene, proves inordinately awful. “It’s the ‘90s, baby!” insists one of several questionable lyrical quips, although a wondrously skanky Jump N’ Shout later full-frontally reveals they were perhaps a rather more potent force way back when.
Now, they’ve a reprehensible overreliance on inessential dance segments recited to the soundtrack of stock trap, or a heinously off-key sprinkling of Stardust’s Music Sounds Better With You – whichever their sonic poison, each proves incongruously toxic. Disorienting similarly, lyrics snipped from C+C Music Factory’s Everybody Dance Now find themselves heavy-handedly interpolated in the mêlée, “Let the rhythm take control, let the rhythm move you” and hackneyed house platitudes comparable overwhelming everything from an otherwise roisterous Romeo, to a superlative Do Your Thing. Rooty, overlooked by only too many, to this day represents Basement Jaxx’ quintessential recording, and they could therefore have done themselves something of a favour in revisiting its tracklisting that bit more vigorously.
For conversely, they at times look a little sapped of vim and invention likewise: the Nina Sayers impersonator who appears prior to a deplorably soggy Raindrops may tick the boxes marked ‘pomp’ and ‘show’, although it’s merely a flagrant distraction from a rendition they’ve now done to death. Yes, Sharlene Hector, dressed as a human disco ball, may deliver an irreproachable vocal, but such melodrama seems pretty inappropriate within the context of what is, to all intents and purposes, a G-A-Y-primed set played before the most graphically heterosexual audience imaginable. No good thing.
Nor is the Neanderthal Techno Pumper – a track which only too evocatively recalls the Outhere Brothers’ Boom Boom Boom – but saving the proverbial worst for last, a boorish Where’s Your Head At brings the figurative curtain down in a fashion that’s uproarious as it is plain boring. And just as it did Rooty now twelve years ago, it gravely embitters the evening. Thus although belatedly sweetened by an encore comprising both an outstanding Mermaid Of Salinas and a fiesta-fied Bingo Bango, the prevailing taste is one of outright disappointment as initial celebration slowly turns to cinder on the tip of the tongue.