How many bands can you name that are approaching the end of their second decade without a break, without significant personnel change and without a dropoff in quality? Hot Chip are on a shortlist. Tonight they arrive at Belfast’s Limelight with their seventh album only a few months old and their appeal as fresh as it was during their mid-2000s breakthrough.
The room is spilling over in anticipation. ‘Huarache Lights’ from 2015’s Why Make Sense? is their opening salvo, and it sets the template for the night. The quadruple-synth backbone to their music is intricate enough on record, but when transported into a live environment, the possibilities are endless, and on each of the fifteen tracks that comprise tonight’s set, the master technicians of this band interlock and improvise around the respective songs’ structures, allowing for poignant ebbs to be overpowered by triumphant flows as they see fit.
From early on, the barrage of hits is relentless: ‘One Life Stand’, ‘And I Was a Boy From School’ and ‘Night and Day’, the latter of which incorporates an interpolation of Jonathan Richman’s ‘I Was Dancing in a Lesbian Bar’, a touching nod to another deadpan, self-effacing lyricist that could find the ecstatic in the everyday.
The music is twinned with a pupil-contracting light show which reaches its summit during a performance of one of the band’s most underrated gems, 2012’s ‘Flutes’. The breakdown near the song’s climax ushers in a moment of hedonistic release from the crowd, a headbanging, early-90s rave that shifts the gig into its highest gear.
The new material is sprinkled liberally throughout the set, although it is worth noting that it is often used to bring the energy down to allow for more tender and vulnerable moments. ‘Spell’ in particular is a reflective, introspective number that showcases Alexis Taylor’s plaintive vocals; there is a purity to his tone that can be too much to take when he sounds broken. Just as guards are starting to lower, however, Hot Chip play their biggest joker. As the opening notes of ‘Over and Over’ emanate, the Limelight’s foundations are tested. The band’s hymn to zen repetition holds a dear place in the hearts of veterans of 2000s indie dancefloors and the outpouring of love and energy is something to see.
The main set is rounded out by two of their most singalong-able concoctions, this year’s ‘Melody of Love’ and 2008’s ‘Ready for the Floor’. By this stage, the connection between artist and audience is at fever pitch (multiple band members make a point to mention that they have a special love for playing in this city), and the encore was non-negotiable. They return with an understated performance of ‘Made in the Dark’ and the lights go out. Could that really be it?
One crack of Leo Taylor’s bass drum shatters the silence. Al Doyle shreds a guitar riff that triggers immediate recognition throughout the room. The volume has burst the scale. “AAAHH CAN’T STAND IT, I KNOW YOU PLANNED IT” comes the scream from Alexis Taylor, a mic in each hand to max out the sound system. Hot Chip are covering the Beastie Boys. The usually unassuming, slightly nerdy figure at the front of stage has exploded into Ad-Rock in strangely convincing fashion. ‘Sabotage’ is every bit the feral rock monster in Hot Chip’s hands as it was in its creators’. It is one of the great unexpected moments of live music in 2019 and it brings the curtain down on a gig that ensures Hot Chip’s continued place at the top table of alternative music, even after all these years.