Halfway through the Chemical Brothers' Ultra-closing set Sunday night, when a skyscraper-size screen repeatedly flashed the words "Don't Think," complying was a given. The British duo's live performance was an all-encompassing sensory experience so powerful in its force, any thought was quickly crowded out by lights and sound.
Oh, and there was the fact that most of the thousands watching had made it through a bit of history: the first three-day edition of Ultra, the first edition of Ultra to sell out in advance, and, quite possibly, the first three-day electronic music festival in the U.S., full stop. All that history-making is tiring.
Luckily, Chemical Brothers appeared to soothe tired souls. While Tiesto's and Deadmau5's closing sets on Friday and Saturday, respectively, were epic, a more old-school -- and live! -- act seemed like the best way to send off the entire festival.
Not only were the Chemical Brothers among the first acts to score crossover success in the heady '90s, but they're one of the few that can handle an arena-size crowd. Not only do they bring an entire set design and mega-high production values -- this time, they performed under a colossal, cage-like lighting structure -- but everything performed is live. Equipment takes up the entire stage, and there is always room for changes and minor variations.
And no disrespect, but unlike many of the other biggest acts at Ultra, the Chemical Brothers understand the emotional and entertainment value of drastically varying tempos. They came out of the gate strong and fast, with the Q-tip-featuring "Galvanize," but then carefully structured the rest of the flowing set into noticeable peaks and valleys.
Unlike Underworld on the festival's previous night, who allowed breaks between songs to emphasize the live-ness of their act, the Brothers kept things flowing nonstop. "Galvanize" and its hefty hip-hop flavor eventually gave way to thudding, more minimal, straight-up techno, then to romantic ambient, then back to the big beat they helped pioneer. With a number of selections coming from the pair's most recent releases, though, there was a marked emphasis on melody that was welcome.
Still, with 150,000 people to please, the Brothers kept things largely uptempo and forceful, building up to a conclusion of their hour-and-a-half set with, what else, "Block-Rockin' Beats." It was a marriage between old and new that nicely concluded the weekend by linking up rave culture's past and future.