UNDERWORLD London Hammersmith Apollo March 2015
Here we are again. Five months after the last show, and I have to go again. Capture the thrill again. That brief moment, the fraction of the second, where the lights and the sound and the roar, it stops, everything goes black, the whole room takes a breath, and suddenly, everything explodes again, and there's music, and lights and sound and sweat and laughter and hugs and we all sing even if it doesn't mean a thing and a whole room near enough yells MEGADOG SNIFFIN THE WIND before the track starts again, before the lights spin a catherine wheel of colour and
it's the same and different. Tonight there's no sign of Rick Smith. Laid up at home on Doctor's orders, Underworld's musical director, and guiding light, is absent. And instead we have Smith's understudy, Underworld's unofficial official third member, Darren Price – whose been part of the Underworld world since 1994, on tour DJ, engineer, producer, technician, studio boffin, and joined the band on stage ten years ago – is instead driving the sound tonight, and whilst it sounds... correct... it doesn't feel quite right, it feels incomplete, and Karl Hyde – vocalist – slightly overcompensates with a bigger stage presence and more between song conversation than I have heard before. It's The Smiths without Johnny Marr, The Rolling Stones without Keef, Aerosmith without Joe Perry, Bon Jovi without Richie Sambora, and well... like seeing Kraftwerk without Florian. Its authentic, but it's simply bad manners for the two of them to walk on stage as if nothings wrong, making no announcement, no warning, and having the somewhat unknown Price play the music all night long. These things matter. Underworld are Smith/Hyde, and have been for fifteen years.
Compared to October's Royal Festival Hall, and it's a very similar, yet totally different show. Whereas at that show, Smith – who was absent tonight – was playing the huge banks of synths and sequencers, riding the sainted rhythms, and largely, it felt, surfing the waves of sound (and clearly working his hands off), tonight, Price – who did not have a role in the creation of any of the material performed at this show – largely seems that there were sections where the whole song is largely preconfigured and arranged and Darren's role was to ensure that the set runs on autopilot.
Aside from that, the set is.. since it's dubnobasswithmyheadman in full, an uneven set, designed around four sides of vinyl, two sides of tape, one CD,no designed around the pacing and flow of a live show. So we get thirty five minutes of nosebleedy high-grade electronic techno deep house whateverthefuckitscalled it makes me want to dance and sing and laugh and smile and forget and then... it's “Tongue”, and the room goes quiet again... the whole of Hammermith seems to be waiting for a bus, waiting for the next song and then it's...
“Dirty Epic” and then...
And it's the mid 90's again. Up all night. Long nights in clubs and fields and at gigs. Moments when I was too scared to say something to someone who could have changed my life.
And then it's “River Of Bass” and “m.e.”, and the room deflates, before it's “Rez”, and we're back. And then it's “Bigmouth”, and “Born Slippy”, and the room goes nuts, and we're all 18 again, and its batshit, bugnuts, and lights and sound and bass and the fuure is not a terror but a promise unfulfilled and i'm with my friends and I love them and I love this and there's dancing and sound and lights and i'm not forty one not anymore I never was i'm inside my head it's nicer there than the outside of the world
Love at first chord, way back when. Fads come and go. Scenes die. Music stays forever. A safety blanket. With guitars and machines and things that go bleep and bloop. And whatever happens, this happened. This was real. And that can never be undone.
Dark And Long
River Of Bass
Born Slippy / NUXX