Underworld in Central Park
And now for an extremely long and detailed post about the Underworld concert. There will be a later post on New York. Sometime.
So I posted earlier that the Underworld show in Central Park completely exceeded my high expectations. Most of the reason for that was Underworld, but part of it was the venue. We were at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, which was much smaller than I'd expected. Underworld isn't nearly as big in the US as in Europe, but still, they played the Hollywood Bowl for their Los Angeles show, and Paul Oakenfold opened for them, so they're not exactly small, either. They've been gravitating toward outdoor venues, so maybe that's the only place in New York that was outdoors and worked.
For whatever reason, it was a much smaller venue than I'd expected, and we were maybe 100 feet from the stage. So instead of watching an outstanding show where we could barely see the stage, we were close enough to see everything and really really feel the thump of the bass.
The thing — well, one of the things — that makes Underworld different from other electronic acts is that they do an actual live show, and they have an actual front man — Karl Hyde. There's nothing pre-recorded, and the setlist isn't set in advance (well, except everyone knows they're going to play Born Slippy), so Rick Smith, the other half of the duo, is up there piecing together little snippets throughout the show. In the pictures I link to later in this post, you may notice a third guy up there, on the boards with him — that's Darren Price, their DJ for the live shows. Add to that a huge video screen in the background, synched to the music, and you certainly have the makings for a hell of a show.
Here was the official setlist:
2. New Train
4. Pearls Girl
5. Biro The Leggy
6. Two Months Off
8. Glam Bucket
9. Rez / Cowgirl
10. Born Slippy Nuxx
11. King Of Snake
There's some confusion as to whether it was Biro the Leggy or Beautiful Burnout, off of the new album Oblivion With Bells. It sounds like Beautiful Burnout may be Biro the Leggy's younger brother. Here is an unofficial setlist, put together by someone who has better memory than me:
2. Dark Train
3. "HMH Untitled-2" improv
6. Pearl's Girl
8. Beautiful Burnout
9. Two Months Off
11. 5 Foot 5
12. Glam Bucket
15. Small Conker and a Twix
16. Born Slippy .NUXX
17. King of Snake
Luetin was an interesting choice to kick things off. It's not one of my favorites, but with a slightly slower beat it gave the crowd a chance to warm up. Karl read the lyrics off of a music stand, which cut back on the energy of the piece a bit. It was the only sign all night that they were at all out of practice. Although, to his credit, Luetin doesn't really make any sense, so he can't really be blamed, except for writing it in the first place.
They followed Luetin with New Train, which is some variation (perhaps in name only) of Dark Train. It was a great choice, and one the crowd definitely appreciated. During Dark Train, the video screen behind them kicked into overdrive with a barrage of images, clipping through them at an incredible pace. The screen continued to change throughout the night, sometimes showing live video of Karl or Rick and Darren, sometimes filmed video of Rick and Karl, sometimes photos or other video, and even vintage Atari games — Asteroid, Space Invaders, and finally Pong.
New Train/Dark Train video — this is the cleanest video I've been able to find out of the concert, although you can't really hear the big Underworld bass.
Crocodile sounded great live. It was very danceable and the crowd responded very well to it. Definitely the next Big Underworld Dance Song.
It took the crowd a little while to catch on to Pearl's Girl, but it still sounds as good as it ever has. I really liked the multimedia screen during this one — words in varying font sizes flashing across the screen so fast I wondered what Underworld was subliminally dropping into my brain.
Pearl's Girl video — this is the best one I could run back across but I feel like I've seen one that's less jerky and lets you see the video better. If I track it back down I'll replace it here.
Beautiful Burnout / Biro the Leggy was a little slower and a little heavy on the vocoder for my taste, but still definitely danceable. I'm very curious to hear how it sounds on the album. I think there were some layers that didn't translate well live, and some of my favorite Underworld songs are just too intricate to really work live. They play Dirty Epic rarely (although they did play it in Denver...Denver also got Moaner — so jealous) and I don't think Banstyle/Sappys Curry ever left the studio.
Beautiful Burnout / BTL video
Beautiful-whatever-it-was was well-positioned, because the next song was a huge, sparkling version of Two Months Off, which had the crowd jumping up and down and screaming, "You bring light in, to a dark place." It was sometime before Two Months Off that they busted out these giant inflatable air tubes to video of Rick and Karl messing around with them in a giant field. The air tubes seemed a little weird at first but they became part of the show, repositioned by the crew periodically and lit up to go with the music, and they worked remarkably well.
Two Months Off — The audio is really fuzzy, but you can see the air tubes and the bouncy crowd
When I finally heard where they were going after the improv period, I exlaimed "Rowla!" Talk about a song that translates well live — it lost the delicacy of the album but was driving, booming, and very danceable.
Glam Bucket was dense and experimental, something to sway to, which was good, because I realized at this point just how much my knee hurt. Normally, if Karl's on the guitar, it's just one of many layers of sound, but you could definitely hear it in this one. I love those little guitar moments in a lot of Underworld songs, so this is another one I can't wait to hear on the new album.
Glam Bucket video
Glam Bucket gave the crowd a chance to rest up, which is good, because Underworld was about to launch into an impossibly spectacular string of songs. Before I go into those, though, some general observations:
1. Underworld puts on a multimedia show. Granted, it's a multimedia show where the music is the obvious star. but between the music, Karl Hyde's crazy antics on the stage, the lights, the smoke, the glowy air tubes and the video screen, there's a whole lot going on. Combine that with dancing and I was in total sensory overload for two-plus hours, but that was part of what made it so oustanding.
2. Karl Hyde is awesome. I knew this already, but I finally got to see it in person. He looked like he was having an absolute blast up there, dancing around. If you saw him bust out some of the moves he pulls at a club, you'd probably stare and go, "what's up with that guy?" Because, let's face it, we're all a little reserved and always trying to make sure we don't do something uncool. But Karl Hyde comes out in front of thousands of people with his arms flung up in the air, dancing around like someone who doesn't care what anyone else thinks about his dancing. And he pulls it off with such joy, such willingness to just embrace the music, that you feel jealous, and then realize that you're released to do the same thing — throw your arms in the air and just go with the music. It's a very powerful feeling. Karl didn't stay in the spotlight the whole night, though. He generally hung back by the deck whenever he was playing the guitar, and sometimes went to the back of the stage and danced there. It made us focus on Rick, who was Very Seriously bent over the deck the entire night like he was doing surgery, and Darren Price, who kept darting around with a hand on his headphones.
So with that said, now it's time to descend into the brilliance that was the best version of Rez/Cowgirl I've ever heard, and I don't say that lightly. Out of a big booming improv bass-y piece, they pulled out the lyrics "everything, everything," over and over again, and it really seemed like they were going to play Cowgirl without Rez, which is pretty much sacrilegious. The loop slowed down and the lyrics distorted, and they slid in the twangy beginning to Cowgirl, and I thought, "wow, they really are going to play Cowgirl without Rez," and I honestly felt a little cheated.
Oh, me of little faith. Out of the twang came just the slightest few electronic pops, and then it slid perfectly into the beginning of Rez, at which point I started screaming and turned to Melvin and yelled, "You can't play Cowgirl without Rez!" with a giant grin on my face. The crowd was already super riled up at this point, and when the song hit that big Rez crescendo, which will never, ever, get old, they went apeshit, myself included. I didn't even consciously think about it — I just HAD to jump up and down and wave my hands in the air with the rest of the crowd.
The transition to Cowgirl was flawless, and Karl sounded great. The crowd was singing along with him — thousands of people yelling, "I'm invisible, I'm invisible." If it wasn't already, it was clear at this point that despite a long hiatus filled only with scattered concert dates, online-only releases and soundtracks, Underworld hasn't lost a thing (or a beat, if you prefer a bad pun). The crowd had huge energy, all the way through to the end, but how could they not?
Rez/Cowgirl 1 — don't turn the volume up on this one too high because it's pretty fuzzy, but it's the only one I've been able to find so far that has the Cowgirl tease at the beginning, through to Rez. I am so hoping that they release audio of this concert, particularly this song.
Rez/Cowgirl 2 — the Cowgirl half of the above video. Again, don't turn it up too high.
Rez with cleaner sound (although less bass)
I was a little sad when they started the opening to Born Slippy Nuxx, because I figured that was it, save maybe for an encore, and the concert would be over soon. But then it kicked into gear and I got caught up in the music, telling myself to just enjoy the hell out of what was left.
Some bands, I think, play their big hit with a little weariness, maybe even a little contempt, like they can't believe they have to trot out the damn song every night. There was none of that with Underworld. It was more, here it is, we're all having so much fun, we know you guys love this song, and it is what it is. And of course the crowd went nuts, jumping up and down, fists pumping the air, despite the fact that we'd all just expended so much energy during Rez/Cowgirl. It goes without saying that we all shouted "Lager! Lager! Lager! Lager!" when the time came.
Born Slippy Nuxx — the sound's about as good on this one as you're going to get, although every video I've found of Born Slippy looks like complete and utter chaos because the cameraman is getting jarred so badly.
Born Slippy Nuxx (different clip)— I mentioned smoke earlier when I was talking about multimedia, and you can see what I was talking about here. The smoke and the lights in time with the music look outstanding. Turn down your volume, though, because it's pretty fuzzy. Lager! Lager! Lager! Lager!
When Born Slippy was over, it quickly became clear that they still weren't done, and then, after a transition period, they brought out King of Snake, and the crowd went nuts again. It was an extremely high energy version, with the big I Feel Love bass line cycling around quickly, Karl spinning around in the back of the stage and the camera, like, Blair Witch close on his face. I was dancing on adrenaline at this point — the music sounded so good, there was no way I couldn't keep moving.
King of Snake 1 — The sound's reasonable on this one, and it's even pretty still.
King of Snake 2 — Second half of the above clip
They really did end it after King of Snake, although they were back quickly for an encore. It was Jumbo, which is actually my least favorite Underworld song. But I wanted the concert to keep going, and I actually liked the song much better when it was live and I was there, swaying and clapping with the rest of the crowd.
Jumbo wasn't nearly enough to unwind my brain. As we followed the stream of people out through the dark, tree-lined paths of Central Park, I felt stunned. My feet were so sore I could hardly walk, and I kept asking myself, "did that really happen?"
Hands-down the best concert I have ever been to. I thought that seeing them once would be enough, but if they come back to the US again, I am so definitely there. And if they don't, well, I can think of worse reasons to go to Europe.
Concert pictures on Flickr: