Liam Howlett surveys the Red Square stage, framed by the twin splendours of the Kremlin ans St Basil's Cathedral, from outside his extra-security dressing tent. "We played here two years ago," he says, "and there were, like, 300 people there. We was like, 'That's the last time we're comming back here.'"
He's currently looking at a crowd of young Muscovites checking out the Ballantine's Whisky-sponsored snowboard-ramp challenge. There are more than 100,000 of them. He's not due on stage for another five hours.
"It took us so much grief getting in and out of the country, really intimidating at customs," he recalls. "Then this comes up, and it was like, 'Well, we can't pass up on doing that.'"
He's also pleased that a long-time favourite group, Brit hip hopsters Genaside II, are their main support tonight. Genaside themselves are enjoying a drink in the adjacent tent. Or not, given that their rider, purchased late last night from a bus, has been teefed. "You know who did it, man," exhales dreadlocked Genaside mainman Chris Bones, inspecting the collection of masks that comprise his concession to stagewear. "The fuckin' pigs. " The only stimulant to have avoided this unusual and furtive raid is a voice-crippling bottle of Ballantine's which the band won't touch.
Given that this is only Genaside's third gig ever, they're feeling a tad edgy as they take the stage to face, in Paul's words, "a fuckin' sea of poeple" - now in the region of 200,000. The band, completed by be-shaded and chilled Jaz and the skinny, manic Fragile, wait behind the riser as they're introduced by a local celebrity MC-ees. "Plibsky plibsky Brixton" she shrills. "Plibsky Ganaside II!" The sea churns and roars.
Reserving judgement on the support band (or British hip hop) is not part of Russian popular culture. Genaside's fusion of rap-driven techno beats, augmented by furiously tight live drums, makes the masses go monkey, moshing and headbanging, pushing against the barricades. As the sinister chorus of 'Cut 'Em Up' reaches its boody climax ("I don't need to excuse for my drunken abuse... I'll cut.. you.. UP!") a rozzer's jacket flies back over the crowd. Riot police will later steam in to recover it.
After a hesitant start, Fragile has soon gone out of his mind, leaping from the stage on to the speakers and writhing on the floor. As the Gothic umbrage of last single 'Mr Maniac' winds up, he takes a flying leap into the arms of the crowd, with security frantically hauling him back.
Afetr the show, the band are in a deservedly affervescent mood. "That'll be something to tell them about in the pub next week," Fragile grins. Paul is more openly taken aback: "I ain't enjoyed myself so much in years. What a buzz - no ale, no smoke... Just people. "
And plenty of them. Every window, every step, every signpost is crowded with onlookers. Crowd size estimates run from 300,000 to 500,000 As the Prodge enter and 'Smack My Bitch Up' kicks in, every last one of them is screaming and dancing. The queues for copies of 'The Fat Of The Land' must have been quite something.
The remarkably clear sound does full justice to 'Voodoo People' and a startling rendition of 'Breathe', with Maxim adopting a Bruce Lee -style vocal shriek. This is fitting, given the ninja precision of his presence - a level of control which places him at the Prodigy's helm, containing the directionless and explosive netvous energy of Union Jack -cled Keith Flint.
Put simply, the Prodigy are playing better than they have for months. With nothing to prove, no media to defy, no ticket prices to justify, they're composed and deadly. Even Liam is uncharacteristically frenzied behind his banks. As 'Poison' fires up, Maxim sings inches from the face of a captive girl in the crow - the whole scene relayed in an almost terrifyingly tight head-shot on the giant video screen. It's a defining Prodigy moment.
Keith encapsulates the experience with an altered chorus to 'Serial Thrilla' - an awestruck chant of "Fucking 'ell! Fucking 'ell!" Winding up with a seismic rendition of 'Firestarter' which causes a predictably rabid response, it's the encore of 'Gabba' which highlights an easily overlooked bit of Prodge genius. Leeroy takes centre stage with a virtuoso performance of helium-bones stumble-dancing. We all have a lot to learn from Leeroy Thornhill. Timing, for exsample. And grace. As the music acts as puppeteer, it's obvious that this man is the world's biggest Prodigy fan, who feels the music as much as Liam does. It's a striking finale.
The Renaissance Hotel hosts the Prodigy's low-key after-show drinks. Liam, sitting at the bar, is happy.
"It was fucking mad," he says, shaking his head. "It's not often you get the change to play a fucking gig like that, to four times as many people as were at Glastonbury, I thought. It was actually better than Glastonbury, I thought. It was hard to put the atmosphere across to them people, but they were into it, man. "
Genaside are absent, having already hit the Cream (yes, that Cream) party in town. Next morning, a severely hung-over Genaside recall the performance.
"It's gotta be the worst drug on going," rasps Chris, forgetting the skinful of booze he put away hours before. "doing a show that everyone loves - bacause you get on a high, and then you're like... I need a fix man!"
On cue, Fragile emerges. His shagged demeanour and almost in audible voice are testimony to his over-aged excess.
"I spewed up all last night, man. And then I still drank more!"
"You can't be doing that kind of stuff every weekend, man," cautions Chris, pausing before grinning almost winsomely. "But it's not often we're in Russia. "