Has the recession finally hit Ireland’s music industry where it hurts? Sure, Underworld could reasonably be nudged into the ‘slightly past their best’ category of mega bands (and it’s snowing hard outside), but tonight’s RDS has gaps around the edges and down the back that you could march a herd of elephants through. Once Underworld appear on stage seemingly in time with the backing music, there aren’t many squeezed into this jumbo warehouse who would actually notice if such an event did happen.
This dance, duo, unbelievably, are now in their fifties. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith spent large chunks of the promo for recent album Barking lamenting not so much the demise of rave culture as their friends failure to wiggle their way out of it before their lives were irreparably damaged. Seeing Underworld as a beacon of the sensible end of the dance genre is a touch hard to do, still, they’ve all grown up, and these days it’s all about the music. In giving in to the crowd and whipping out a host of the classics, they ensure the crowd feel the same.
Tonight’s set spans the eras, following their long established tradition of eight to ten minute live epics, with a firm emphasis on the timeless hits from their classic Everything Everything album. Bass-driven and repetitive, the rhythms flitter nicely around the classic techno pace, launching into that distinctive 140 BPM, light-flickering mania that lends the listener a compulsion to dance. ‘Downpipe’, ‘King Of Snake’ and ‘Moaner’ see Karl Hyde strutting his stuff down the front while a swaying figure dominates the light projections, swinging gracefully against a backdrop of controlled mayhem that filters down to the sparsely populated depths.
Then there’s the ‘Rez/ Cowgirl’ combo, a well-worked live classic where the samples subtly fuse, with ‘Rez’ stringing things together as a stunted bookmark and ‘Cowgirl’ the meat of the piece. The half full RDS are indulging in a beautifully collective case of being lifted away, an illusion that continues as the snow spatters down outside. There’s that otherworldly ambience that a palpitating techno beat seems to introduce, and the highs are pure, driven, slow-building elation.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Underworld without mammoth waster’s anthem ‘Born Slippy’ rearing its insanely danceable head somewhere along the way, and it does so as the last song of the main set, prompting a mass sing along to the “lager, lager” chorus. Great music never dies, it just gets old. So, though, do its fans. ‘Born Slippy’ nudged its way on to the BBC Radio 2 playlist earlier this week, a feat that suggests that a few more of tonight’s crowd might be heading back to desk jobs or babysitters than might care to admit it. Underworld, though, for all the unsold tickets and ‘we got out in time’ declarations are still at an icon at the heart of their scene. If tonight’s anything to go by, they could end up as relevant arena headliners as pensioners (see Kraftwerk). Now that would be some achievement.
Photos: Alan Moore