Review: Underworld At The Roundhouse

Art & Culture

You can’t keep a good band down, after a series of albums which arguably failed to reach the peaks of those that came before, writing Underworld off would’ve been easy.

However, since 2010’s patchy Barking album, things seem to have clicked into place: there’s Karl Hyde’s impressive solo endeavours, two further releases in collaboration with Brian Eno, Rick Smiths’ soundtrack work for Danny Boyle, a stage adaptation of Frankenstein and of course, their work together for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.

All this, plus their recent revisit to their 1994 classic Dubnobasswithmyheadman has given Underworld another jolt of energy: this has manifested itself in their best album in almost twenty years, Barbara Barabara, We Face A Shining Future. 

Tonight’s Roundhouse gig is more celebration than ‘here’s our new album’, plenty of its tracks get an airing but with a back catalogue as vast as theirs, there’s plenty of opportunity to get down, and judging by the audience, baby sitters made a KILLING tonight.

Starting with ‘I Exhale’ and ‘If Rah’ they immediately lay down the gauntlet, it’s time to dance, the tracks rumble the foundations of a venue which, although impressive, is hit and miss in terms of sound. The classic ‘Dark Train’ and opener to their best album, 96’s Second Toughest In The Infants, ‘Juanita, Kiteless, To Dream Of Love’ are presented in all their glory, coming so early in the set proves to be a masterstroke, the entire venue is theirs at this point. 

‘Two Months Off’ is deliriously uplifting, ‘Jumbo’, probably their ultimate track is as propulsive and as euphoric as ever, while ’Push Upstairs’ remains a mammoth piece of techno. ‘Low Burn’ and ‘Nylon Strung’, both highlights from the Barbara album both contain similar levels of exhilaration as ‘Jumbo’ and already sound like they will be main players in future gigs. 

During ‘King Of Snake’ confusion commences, the staff behind the bar stop serving, the music then stops, apparently we’re to evacuate, there isn’t any announcement from the stage so people eventually start piling out of the venue into the harsh rain smacked streets of Camden. News eventually gets round that a fire alarm had gone off. 

Twenty minutes later and a noticeably depleted crowd are let back in. With Hyde announcing “We thought you needed the exercise” they hit the home stretch: a banging ‘King Of Snake’, a more melodic version of ‘Dirty Epic’ under the guise ‘Dirty Club’, a mash up of ‘Rez with ‘Cowgirl’, a furious reading of ‘Rowla’ and, of course, ‘Born Slippy.NUXX’ to finish off with.

Despite ‘Born Slippy’ exposing them to a level of fame and financial success that their other material probably wouldn’t have been capable of giving them, this track must be their albatross, misinterpreted lyrically, and over two decades old, they’d probably rather lay it to rest. However it’s pretty clear by the audience reaction that this isn’t an option for them. Underworld are back operating at the height of their powers, they haven’t been as vital as this since 99’s Beaucoup Fish…who’d have thought?

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