The crushing news that Underworld had cancelled their January Australian tour sent Wind Back Wednesday looking for comfort. And comfort was found not that long back, in this review from the first of two shows in 2017, their first here in a very long time.
Two things about this. I can confirm the second show, in Melbourne the following night, was as mind-blowing as this one though the band/audience interaction wasn’t at quite the same level as in Sydney. And while star ratings are eschewed here, when this review ran in the Sydney Morning Herald it came with five stars. And five only because six stars out of five wasn’t allowed.
Opera House, April 11
There’s a line in my favourite Underworld song, Two Months Off, - actually, now that I think of it, several lines – that act as a kind of shorthand for an Underworld show.
Not just in the words but the rhythm, and the line walked between the understood explicitly and the felt implicitly, and then in the sheer visceral pleasure.
“You bring light in, walking in light, glowing, walking in light, gold ring around you, the hues of you, the golden sunlight of you.”
The pleasures of Underworld are in that space between – taking equal parts from – the intellectual and the unthinking, the emotional and the physical.
There’s the way Karl Hyde rips hard, demanding lines in Moaner like stripping flesh from a whipping boy, like John Lydon crossed with a Beat poet, like a wild king declaiming from an iron throne.
Or how the instrumental Rez and its morphed partner Cowgirl pull strands of light and threads of thought around you before the drum kicks in like a dozen mules and nothing else exists. Or maybe everything exists in this huge cavernous space which just opened in front of you just before you dived, headfirst and grinning.
How about when King Of Snake throws your body around like a shark mauling-playing with its prey and Kittens emerges from it like your face being slapped over and over again – and all the time you’re coming over all 50 Shades of begging for more because that’s not hurting, hell no, that’s being alive. It feels 50 shades of good.
Euphoria isn’t meant to be sustained for two hours. No one expects that in anything. But then no one expects euphoria in a song about the delirium tremens of self-loathing (the darkly joyous or joyously dark Born Slippy which was, singer Karl Hyde said, their “parting gift”) either, but there’s no denying it’s there and there’s no denying this was one long euphoric experience.
Pic by Daniel Boud
It was in the huge drops of drums and synths at climactic moments, sure: those surges are timed to regularly set off the chemical rushes for those so indulging, but you didn’t need to be on anything to soar with it.
And in the light-encrusted blast of If Rah as much as the moody growth of Cups, that crept up almost stealthily until it simply owned the space around you. Or the dark surrounds of Ring Road which was like highway driving, though not some long stretch of American road but a winding British one with the cars suddenly approaching around a bend, the road rising and dipping, the shapes beside the road blurred.
What was just as crucial in this sustained euphoria was the personal touch, the bit people who have never seen Underworld and think, yeah, big climaxing dance music, won’t understand.
Whether it was watching Hyde connect with us not with anything said but with his dancing – as given over to the moment, as caught up in the pleasures as anyone in the room. Or seeing his “brother” Rick Smith create back stories and future projections in wholly instrumental moments that seemed to surprise him with their effect.
Or how they caught the other’s eye, or grabbed a hug, grinning with the obvious love and connection between them.
The essence of Underworld isn’t in the sound, the volume, the enigmatic, evocative or fractured lyrics, the rise and rise and rise to explosion, the way bodies still moved when tempos pulled back or the way everyone seemed so blissfully (but also wholly in touch) happy.
The essence of Underworld is in how all those coalesced into something native, enveloping, thrilling, moving, utterly danceable, completely felt…. shared.
“Everything comes natural, fantastic fan, rocking, rocking, floating.”