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UNDERWORLD – LIVE: REVIEW


Pic by Prudence Upton

UNDERWORLD

Vivid Live, Sydney Opera House, May 31

Rise. Rise. Rise.

Exploratory signals to interplanetary craft, unhurried even as the beat prods behind, then a pause, brief, an inhalation of breath at most, before the more substantial drums arrive to drive. The signals are unchanged but now they seem more inquisitive and focused, and the voice is cutting through now.

“Everything, everything, I’m invisible, an eraser of love”, and looming up behind it is something earthier in those drums just as something starts to swirl in the upper reaches, cloudier but brighter too. How is that possible? Shards of light, and optimism too, piercing through. “I’m hurting no one, hurting no one.”

From this now comes a new presence, pulsing and pushing, from solid ground and firm footing, poised to launch, poised to fly as it builds up the clackety-clackety clack of a night train whose tracks are being elevated, the sweeping arc of its light showing darkness everywhere but shapes just distinguishable on the periphery, or maybe just in your mind’s eye.

And now the tracks disappear and you are hurtled beyond gravity – not floating though, your momentum is too strong –hands making gestures of clearing away obstacles, feet moving without direction, just naturally. Soaring. Soaring.

Then there is nothing but space. Floating now, carried on voices and warmth. “I wanna hold you, laughing … carry me”, and you feel supported. One song, two songs, three songs … five that change your perspective, shift from action to trance-like reverie, that sometimes holds pain (“I’m the spoonman, she’s a wound”) that still feels more like living than hurting.

Pic by Prudence Upton

But not alone. Never alone. There’s a generosity of spirit, a sense of care that comes from the stage – between each other, sure, but also out to us, in tone and sound even more so than words – that is quietly joyous. It permeates the room, now swaying and watching the dance of lights on seemingly porous eyeballs soaking up the effects that must play differently in every brain and yet it feels communal. This is the secret isn’t it? Actually caring and emboldening us to do the same. “Be bold, be beautiful. Free. Totally. Unlimited.”

It’s been 45 minutes, though only a pedant’s need to check the watch would give any sense of real time, and the travelling has ended. We’re here, in the middle of it, and the sun is not yet fierce but you can feel it coming, like the declaration “and now the rave” which signals a direction for your compass.

There are voices in unison, the screen showing shapes forming singles and pairs, circles merging. A new song, yes, but an old message and a taster, a prelude, a build up, that take us to the precipice where, warned by the repeated muttering of “king of snake, king of snake”, we stand poised.

And then, we jump.

Into the flood of strobing lights. Into the bottomless well, pursued by that snake that is all head and slits for eyes. Head and feet tumbling over each other at first until we find our bearings, form our bodies into arrows and aim ourselves at the heart of the yawning space opening before us.

Inside it a snapping snare smacks sharply but over the top of it comes a piano motif that feels like birds skating over the surface of water, dipping wings to brush just enough to ripple the top. “And it’s okay, you give me everything I need.”

Thus armed, fortified, we can face the rumbling and nagging of disquiet that lies at a track which nods to Miles Davis in its title but also, if you hold yourself still long enough, in its hypnotic simplicity and space left unfilled.

Not that much is unfilled here. There’s an interregnum of machine and metal that initially feels like a shot of cold but then you realise it is building tissue, re-connecting you to the centre of the room, and to others around you in the room. A room which now expands, the surge surge surge of thick keyboards pushing against the busy, buoyant Latin percussion in a sonic equivalent of “walking in light, glowing … gold ring around you”.

In the explosion which follows, we’re one sinuous form, long tendrils of lights bathing us, multiple peaks reached, passed, reclaimed. So it is that we’re ready to remake a song that began so many years ago as a crushed voice in a lather of self-loathing and isolation, with its hook straight from a laddish chant of the terraces – “lager, lager, lager” - into the very opposite of isolation. And the very opposite of self-loathing.

Now a call-and-response in a breakdown that is long and relentless. Now, as the synth chords return, a cry answered. And finally, in its you lift me/I lift you finale, a connection made. No one is alone here.

The final Underworld show at Sydney Opera House is tonight, June 3

A version of this review was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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