For many in the class of ’95-96 and beyond, Underworld will be primarily remembered for ‘Born Slippy’ and the words "lager, lager, lager" will cast minds back to a heady day somewhere drinking, well, lager of course and most likely dropping pills.
However if you do feel this way about Underworld, to say you are suffering some kind of myopia is an understatement. Any doubts ravers of the 90’s as well as wannabe millennial party-goers (yes, that’s partly me) have about the extraordinary breadth and adventure in Underworld’s career should have been dispelled after this show.
Supporting your own gig must have indeed been surreal for founding member Rick Smith, whose opening set verged on ambient, though still laced with some of Underworld’s trademark kick.
To say Smith’s set was virtuosic isn’t hyperbolic, it was fascinating to watch, as he played from the middle of the room, partially hidden between four canvas walls. In line with the Surreal Carnival Experiment vibe, visuals projected onto the walls were puzzling and engrossing in equal measure.
An hour or so later, as the lights dimmed and smoke filled the hall, Karl appeared on stage with Rick, before embracing and launching into ‘Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You’. It doesn’t take long to see that they are very much still a class act. The production is slick and the light show is, well, something else.
As ‘I Exhale’ kicks in, a pervasive sense of joy comes over the 10,000 strong crowd, and is soon ubiquitous.
This is a towering performance, and perfectly treads a line between nostalgic and ecstatic all the while being clinical in its execution. ‘Scribble’ follows as we approach the half way point and with it some slightly unexpected but more than welcome drum and bass.
Motoring towards the climax of the performance, Rick and Karl remain in what would seem to be their element. The truth is, despite looking so at home in front of 10,000 people with hands in the air pleading for more, they are equally adept writing film scores, producing plays and more. To take a step back and have a think about who Underworld are, what they have done, and their longevity (they continue to work on numerous projects) as they both approach 60 is quite staggering.
Fans might be deceived as to who wears the trousers in their relationship, so to speak. Superficially, Karl looks the more youthful and his actions on stage belie his age. Behind him, wearing a smart shirt working away at the decks stands Rick. Again, a shortsighted, unconsidered view would suggest Karl is the ‘fun’ front for Rick’s tech geekery behind him. In fact, that view could not be further from the truth. There are tracks where Karl disappears entirely from the stage, wanting to make sure the moment is given to Rick, while there are regular embraces between the two. They have been together since 1980 and any relationship that lasts that long deserves a huge amount of respect.
We come to the end of the show and ‘Born Slippy’ kicks in. As that familiar kick drum fills the hall, so does a kaleidoscopic set of lights. It is almost a visual metaphor for the scope of Underworld’s back catalogue and what they have gifted to the crowd this evening. As the drum stops rolling so do the lights, and there is genuine sense of elation throughout the crowd from the 18 year olds to 58 year olds. It’s a special moment and a special evening.