Had things gone differently, what a marketing executive Norman Cook would have made. Long before producers-turned-rave-ringmasters Guetta and Harris had laid their hands on a USB stick, he recognised that DJ sets in large venues need to be more than just a bloke playing records. In his hands, the process is akin to a rock gig, with a ladleful of circus on top. The opening date of this in-the-round arena tour takes the properties of a rave and magnifies them.
Cook is a force, bounding around a revolving stage, singing along and happily gurning at this roomful of veteran ravers, some of them accompanied by teenage offspring. Occasionally he prods a laptop, causing oddball snippets to divert the big beat or house energy in a different direction, as with the sudden appearance of the “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” Seven Nation Army chant from Glastonbury.
It’s hard to tell whether he’s mixing live – you can imagine him in his Hove studio, mulling over where in the set to drop in a bar of Freddie Mercury singing Bohemian Rhapsody a cappella (it turns up before an obscure house track), and how best to stitch together a triplet of Groove Is in the Heart, Man 2 Man Meet Man Parrish’s Male Stripper and his own 2000 hit, Sunset (Bird of Prey). And then, how much to tantalise the crowd with snips of his certified classics – The Rockafeller Skank, Ya Mama – before playing them in full? He’s excels at this kind of editing, and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a “press play” moment or one that’s been impulsively improvised.
Encircling the stage overhead is a screen showing animations, and a video of Fatboy shirtless, his torso morphing from muscled to porky – a strangely compelling sight that lingers in the mind even as glitter cannons and pyro effects rattle the room. It’s perhaps a sanitised version of rave culture – the muddy fields of the acid house era probably didn’t have “rave ushers” to ensure the dancers had enough space – but this spectacular show still has the buoyant spirit of the era, unquenched.
• At Birmingham Arena, 22 February, Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff, 23 February, then touring.