Review: Fatboy Slim, Birmingham Arena

Fatboy Slim Birmingham Arena image Gareth Griffiths

Fatboy Slim’s in-the-round arena show delivers an intriguing combination of the euphoria of a rave and the pomp and circumstance typically reserved for a stadium rock show. And with Fatboy Slim, real name Norman Cook, there’s always a bit of his trademark cheek thrown in for good measure.

The set up is incredible. Having spoken with Cook a few weeks prior, his description of the hydraulic revolving stage made some impressive claims but this is a spectacle to behold.

From that stage shoot laser, streamers, strobes, glitter, fireworks, flame throwers and smoke machine plumes. The cost of admission may be a touch more than your average club night but this was a night of the big guns and a spoilt audience.

Though Cook professes to offer escapism and an avoidance of political discourse within his shows, it’s interesting that he should pick ‘This Is America’ by Childish Gambino as one of his set pieces – one of the most politically charged and arguably best songs of 2018. Of course, he may have chosen it for its genius alone. He’s a big fan of putting his own spin on the material of others, his mashup of Major Lazer’s ‘Pon De Floor’ and Daft Punk’s ‘One More Time’, for example, is inspired.

What does seem missing, however, are his hits. He shies away from playing any of his biggest songs in their entirety or recognisable forms; with the exclusion perhaps of ‘Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat.’ – which opened the show – and ‘Right Here, Right Now’ – which brought it to a close.

We hear just snippets of the likes of ‘Fucking In Heaven’ and ‘Praise You’, and ‘Weapon of Choice’ is recognised only in a brief clip of Christopher Walken’s incredible music video performance. This avoidance of playing most of Cook’s songs is perhaps understandable for an artist that is a) a DJ and b) a DJ with a career of over 25 years, though I won’t lie, I’d have liked to have heard them nonetheless.

The beat only truly abates at two moments in his whole performance – when he doffs the cap to two of the all time greats – Freddie Mercury and Aretha Franklin. The appearances of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Say A Little Prayer’ take many by surprise, not least myself, and these playbacks spark quite endearing school disco-esque singalongs – respectfully, Cook refrains from any Queen remix.

He work the stage so hard, so emphatically and so lovingly – it’s clear that at the very top of his agenda is showing his audience a good time.

The screens display many psychedelic visualisations, trippy CGI versions of Fatboy Slim himself, and – at one point – an array of iconic celebrities and historical figures. This varying video content was a fascinating element of the show but also gave the audience a more active experience, rather than a passive one. Rather than escapism, we are more aware of the here and now, but we are elevated.

This was a show that was simultaneously everything that I expected and nothing like I expected, With this approach to performing live, he combines intimacy with extravagance and Rave with Rock’N’Roll – and we never stop dancing. 

Words: Gareth Griffiths


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