IN THE bar down the road from Amsterdam's swinging Paradiso venue, the longest drum roll in the history of dance music is nearing a climax. Paul Daley and Neil Barnes are about to lift the curtain on the live incarnation of Leftfield and the tension is at megawatt level. Even the posse of Brits who have followed the 'Field over are subdued.
Sandals manager Derek, who ran the Soho sex dive house club where Barnes and Daley met as percussionists eight years ago, sits quietly. Old school mates, long-term club buddies and record company onlookers sip their drinks in the grip of pre-debut gig nerves.
Then someone points out that the sound system Leftfield are using tonight is one that was banned from last year's Notting Hill Carnival. "They had to shut it down because it was so loud they were getting complaints from Camden…" Ah, that must be it then. The first ever Leftfield gig. In Amsterdam. Figures.
What to expect from the punk graduate dub DJ bongo-smashers in a live context? Not for nothing is the 'Leftism' album fronted by a photo of a speaker in shark jaws, The Leftfield Liveism tour is the most vicious speaker-stack attack you're likely to witness outside of diving into the bass bins at Donington.
Two edgy, average-looking crop-headed dudes make their way up from the Paradiso dressing rooms onto a darkened stage. One wears khaki ACR shorts and carries the rhythm sticks. The other has a Full Moon Scientist T-shirt and palms of steel. Then a bank of giant robo lights swivel, tracking invisible zeppelins on the ceiling and with a seismic throb of bass, Liveism is launched like an earthquake drum roll on the QE2.
When the wall-to-wall rammed mass of skunk-happy Euro youth pick themselves off the floor they're greeted by the sight of three geezers and a sound-mixer man buried under a city of keyboards and percussion. This is not the Leftfield Go Pantomime experience. It is, rather, pure deep dub-techno improv; an updated sound system deification on a scale not yet witnessed.
As opener 'Song Of Life' picks up speed from the majestic opening section, Daley leans into his drum kit and the first of a series of sonic rhythm rushes spreads through the crowd. It is about 38 degrees out there. The air is a pulp of sonically squashed molecules. But Daley, Barnes and second keyboard player Nick Rapaccioli appear oblivious as they conduct their ruthless, body dub-ling, basshead bashing ceremony.
Tracks that were manageable post prog-house bouncers on the album turn into towering hard-house infernos live. Sometime Bally Sagoo chatterer MC Cheshire Cat strolls on for 'Black Flute' but his wordism is icing on a drum'n'loop volcano. 'Afro-Left' blurs into 'Storm 3000'. African vocalist Djum Djum takes up the mike for some mid-set free-forming and gives us the benefit of his weird Theremin-playing skills. Barnes strolls frontwards to thwack the devil out of an array of esoteric percussion instruments. But it's the power and scope of Leftfield's dark sun rising, mood-altering trance that impresses.
There is no Lydon here to front 'Open Up' (which they leave out of the set). And the Toni Halliday-sung 'Original' is rendered a wordless, reworked jam. The personality booming from the nuclear amps is, however, as tangible, and charismatic as any dressy, stage-diving star. Liveism is a speaker stack in a T-shirt which says SEXUALITY - SYNCOPATION - SPIRITUALITY in giant letters. When the muezzin wail that cuts into the beginning of 'Space Shanty' blasts out in eerie mimesis of the sneery punk dirge that Barnes and Daley coaxed out of Lydon, there are primal connections made that nearly blow the roof off.
For 'Not Forgotten' at the end of the set, Barnes smacks metal palms into his congas like a mad masseur. Daley's arms flail at his kit, and the pair click into sync, squeezing the last drops out of a percussive voodoo act that only Underworld come close to matching. It's bigger than both of them, this Leftfield thing. And it is, yes, awesome.
In the dressing room afterwards, corks are popped on the celebratory spliffs as the conga-ing heroes come down from the celestial mountain top of banging things. Barnes worries about the teething troubles that nobody heard. Daley wanders about in bare feet like a traveller at journey's end, in need of a paddle. Having just reduced Amsterdam to a pool of sweat that wouldn't be too hard. Tonight the little drummer boys turned into drum majors.
review by Roger Morton (nicked from 'New Musical Express', dated 27 April 1996)