Many wondered how The Prodigy could function live without the presence of the talismanic Keith Flint. After tonight's intimate show at the Birmingham Academy, it's impossible to imagine them not playing on. As the UK summer heatwave begins to approach critical mass, this 3,000-capacity club venue already feels like a sauna at least an hour before the band - now just featuring founder, DJ and main songwriter Liam Howlett and vocalist/MC Maxim Reality, plus live guitarist Rob Holliday and drummer Leo Crabtree - even take to the stage.
When they do, though, the release of emotion that runs through the Academy is unlike anything this writer has witnessed before - even at shows as legendarily batshit as The Prodigy's. A set-opening Breathe instantly transforms the entire floor into a pulsating, writhing (and fucking sweaty) mass of bodies, the question of how Keith Flint's vocals will be covered becoming quickly obsolete: the crowd singing his parts is so loud it feels like the very walls of the building are shaking.
It's the first emotional moment of many in a night that feels like a fitting tribute to one of UK music's most beloved figures, courtesy of an absolute worldie of a setlist (all but one Prodigy album, 2004's Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, is represented) and an energy level that quite simply refuses to let up, no matter how much the heat level keeps rising.
There are fun, fresh touches to old favourites as well: a rare outing for The Fat Of The Land instrumental Climbatize, underpinned by drops from Invaders Must Die number Warriors Dance; a Pendulum-influenced drum 'n' bass outro for the timeless Voodoo People; a stomping half-tempo breakdown bringing an extra sense of heaviness to No Good (Start The Dance). All are greeted voraciously, but it's the Flint-powered songs that draw the biggest reactions, enabling full-hearted shout-a-longs loud enough to fill a football ground.
If Maxim was feeling understandably off his game at no longer having his dance partner by his side, it doesn't show; he orchestrates the chaos seamlessly, demanding movement and participation at all times as he jumps, dances and headbangs his way around the stage. In fact, one of the only times he isn't moving is the night's most emotional moment: during a partially instrumental-remixed version of Firestarter, a neon outline of Ketih Flint throwing shapes from that unforgettable video behind him, Maxim simply stands, speechless, taking in the sight of 3,000 people barking the lyrics back at him.
"He's still with us," shouts Maxim as the song reaches its final drop. "He's still here." Cathartic, explosive and, now, more emotionally resonant than ever. No one does it like The Prodigy.