All words: Marcus Dowling
All photos: Jeff Martin
One hit record changes everything. Thus is the case for Monday night’s British headliners at the 9:30 Club, thirty year dance music veterans Underworld. Known in the states primarily for their huge hit added to the soundtrack of iconic 90s film Trainspotting, “Born Slippy,” the brilliant meld of trance and drum and bass errs towards the side of pop when lead singer Karl Hyde’s lyrics are added to the vocal mix. However, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith as the group’s nucleus have recorded together since 1980, and their long term partnership does not go unmerited when noting the brilliant melodies and note perfect timing of their wonderful three hour live show.
As has been typical for a plethora of 9:30 Club events in 2010, last night’s event was a sellout. However, this was not the typical electronic dance music full capacity event. Having also recently seen Deadmau5 at the venue with Will Eastman opening, this was an older crowd with a likely median age of 35. This gave a bizarre air of reserved calm to the event, as usually pulsing synths, hyperkinetic light shows and massive sound system workouts are usually the realm of sweaty candy ravers, tanned Jersey Shore devotees and their friends. I’m not saying that 9:30 Club was entirely filled with the parents of members of that designated audience, but it’s entirely possible that more than a few of them were there.
Underworld’s live set up has changed extensively over the last 30 years. For the last 20, the concept has been to include a live mixer/DJ, a keyboard and guitars. Live drums and bass guitars are an element that has escaped the band as time has evolved them, but Darren Price, the group’s most recent addition as a live assistant and mixer does not go unnoticed. Manning the boards while Rick Smith lays down fantastic keys and Kurt’s delicate falsetto fills the upper range of live tracks like “Born Slippy,” which was extended into a 10 minute pastoral symphony and was the night’s highlight performance and tracks from their latest record which they are touring Barking that features production credits from the likes of trance master Paul van Dyk certainly isn’t simple, but he handles the task with a professional ease.
Underworld ran the gamut of sounds of EDM last night, as the group has always maintained a current and populist edge. Elements of funk, Chicago house, techno, drum and bass and trance were all readily apparent, and easily accepted by the enthusiastic and willing throng. Lead singer Karl Hyde striped long sleeve t-shirt drenched and sweaty, standing on a raised platform literally singing with head held skyward as a jam packed main floor had their arms raised in appreciation is an iconic image of an artist at the height of mastery of the medium of EDM that will stay with me for quite awhile.
Classic dance veterans and classic dance fans joined together in a remembrance of misspent youth and an attempt at being able to maintain that energy for a lifetime. The gambit was a successful one, and a well executed night that is a reminder of the touch of magic the sparks from performer and audience melding skill and emotion.