The Prodigy, review: late frontman Keith Flint is barely missed in this brutally effective show

The Prodigy return - Anthony Mooney
The Prodigy return - Anthony Mooney

A densely packed crowd chanted “Keith, Keith, Keith” as fierce electro punks the Prodigy returned for their first tour since the death by suspected suicide of frontman Keith Flint in 2019. Yet surprisingly given that Flint, with his strikingly original image and charismatic presence, was the band’s primary focal point for almost 30 years, he was barely missed at all.

A green laser outline of Flint and his trademark pointy devil hairdo flashed in an agitated blur during a frenetic blast through his 1996 signature hit Firestarter - performed mainly as an instrumental with short samples of Flint roaring the “I’m a Firestarter, twisted Firestarter” hook. “He’s always f***ing here, he’s still f***ing here,” declared co-frontman Maxim in a tone possibly pitched towards elegiac celebration yet coming across like someone grumbling about an uninvited guest. And that was as sentimental as the evening got.

The rest of the show was a frenzied barrage of flashing lights and distorted beats as the surviving band members tore through 21 songs in under 90 minutes. It was a noisy, sweaty, body-slamming blitzkrieg, a sensory overload without a moment’s respite. The Prodigy were all attack, with Maxim bellowing banal slogans (“Where my people at?”, “Make some f***ing noise”) as synths emitted boneshaking, bowel-loosening slabs of sound and a drummer thrashed his kit with a fury that suggested it had personally offended him. To be fair, this has always been the Prodigy’s default live setting, like an invading hooligan army starting a riot at a disco.

It was an approach that hugely enlivened electronic dance music in the Nineties, forging a link between the sleekly energetic grooves of techno and the macho swagger of heavy rock. On record, songwriter, synth player, programmer and producer Liam Howlett has demonstrated a distinctive talent for crafting hard-hitting dance tracks, with clever use of vocal samples and a dynamic manipulation of synthetic noises into a quasi-psychedelic miasma of sound.

But any nuance has long since been abandoned in the band’s approach to performance, where the Prodigy go into raging rock mode. This, it appears, is exactly what their (heavily male-dominated) audience want, forming mosh pits and transforming vocal hooks into football chants. It makes for an exciting spectacle, yet there remains something distinctly queasy about witnessing a crowd punching the air and yelling “Smack my bitch up!”.

Prodigy fans - Anthony Mooney
Prodigy fans - Anthony Mooney

With record sales in the multi-millions, the Prodigy could sell out much larger venues than Liverpool’s 2,000-capacity Mountford Hall, which has all the ambience of a particularly boozy student bar – although at least half of the audience were old enough to be senior members of staff rather than wide-eyed freshers. With lights bouncing off shiny pates, the crowd was like a human mirror ball.

Since forming the Prodigy in 1990, Howlett has essentially made all of their records himself. The twin frontman dynamic of Flint and Maxim has always been a gimmick, albeit vital to the band’s appeal. Operating as hype men, the duo have effectively acted as their conduit to a live audience, translating club music into a rock show. However, it turns out that one shouty MC is pretty much as effective as two.

The small scale of this 10-date comeback tour might suggest some trepidation about the Prodigy’s return to the stage without their iconic frontman. But they needn’t have worried. If anything, this brutally effective performance demonstrated how extraneous everyone but tunesmith Howlett actually is to the Prodigy.

Touring until Saturday. Tickets: theprodigy.com