TAS Live Review: Underworld at O2 Academy Brixton, November...
Underworld (courtesy eGigs)
Word of warning to all who venture to south London’s cavernous O2 Academy Brixton for a set that begins at midnight; you’re gonna have a hell of a time getting home. The tube closes just past midnight, night buses take roundabout routes and require a bleak, long wait in freezing temperatures until the N133 bothers to show up, and a cab, if you can get one, will cost you a cool £30 ($47) to get you even vaguely near central London. In other words, good luck.
Only a fool or a longtime admirer of Underworld would undertake the trek (thankfully, a generous friend who offered a lift halfway home made the horror of the homeward journey more tolerable), but it was worth the hassle to see one of the greatest, most influential British electronic bands play a hometown gig that, as the duo has hinted, might well be one of their last “just Underworld” appearances for a couple of years.
Supporting their latest album Barking, a kinetic, vivacious collection of tracks utilizing the efforts of an array of guest producers, like Appleblim and High Contrast, Underworld have been relying on a unchanging set list for this tour that draws primarily from the new album. The momentum that composer/producer Rick Smith, vocalist/guitarist Karl Hyde and touring production associate/DJ Darren Price generated from the first murmurings of opening track “Downpipe,” Hyde’s collaboration with Mark Knight and D. Ramirez, to the thundering, vicious lament of the final encore, “Moaner” from 1999’s Beaucoup Fish, was ferociously propulsive and focused purely on keeping the crowd moving. No one could catch their breath and that seemed Smith and Hyde's intention; even the most ruminative track, “Bird 1,” and the darkly iconic “Dirty Epic,” which kicked off the encore, laid out a cool, hip-swinging shuffle.
The indefatigable Hyde, galloping, glissading and boomeranging about the stage like a rubbery, rock ‘n’ roll Bob Fosse in a striped Breton shirt, brought near-evangelical zeal to Barking’s “Scribble,” “Always Loved A Film” and “Diamond Jigsaw” while Smith wryly watched the crowd’s mounting, arm-waving fervor with a sly smile when not darting for for a knob, crooning backing vocals or lunging for a Mac; the man has an uncanny instinct of knowing exactly when to drop a big beat for maximum impact.
Not surprisingly, Underworld’s legacy tracks, like “Cowgirl,” “Rez” and “Born Slippy NUXX” (those shuddering chords can still reliably send a crowd into orgiastic hysteria) generated a huge response (and increased the likelihood that you’d be drenched with lager by the drunken lout weaving next to you). But even Hyde and Smith seemed deeply touched by the equally impassioned response that new tracks, like the bruising, rock-dusted “Diamond Jigsaw,” received: the band’s celebrating thirty years together this year and relevance and attracting new fans is always a challenge as a group segues decade to decade. This triumphant, sweaty, packed-to-the-rafters Brixton reception, attracting fresh faces and longtime followers, brought Smith and Hyde together in a tender, brotherly bear hug at night’s end; their mission seemed accomplished. The rest of us stumbled into the street, hearing shattered, stripped of easy transportation home, but pretty damn pleased to see one of Underworld's most emotional, riveting live London shows of the last couple of years. It hopefully won't be the last.