Hollywood Bowl, September 9, 2007
By Jonah Flicker
Underworld’s recent appearance at the Hollywood Bowl felt strangely momentous. No devastatingly important events took place onstage. No secrets were revealed. No special guests shocked or awed the crowd. What did occur was an amazing Sunday night show from a veteran electronic act with 15-year-old songs that sound just as urgent today as they did upon their release. The capacity crowd, mostly comprised of O.G. ravers and admirers of ‘90s e-music, clumped together into one writhing organism as songs like the classic, big-synth-undulating “Two Months Off” and selections from their forthcoming album, Oblivion with Bells, filled the night. The passing down of traditions took place as well, as mothers taught their children the age-old ritual of dancing with glow sticks during Underworld’s ebullient set.
The trio’s onstage roles are clearly defined. Karl Hyde is the showman, a ball of energy jumping manically around as he sings and plays guitar, distorting his voice evilly on songs like the steadily-throbbing “Cowgirl.” Rick Smith and Darren Price are the scientists, soberly crafting beats from behind a giant console of knobs and faders. This combination has been the key to Underworld’s crossover success – ravers love them for their meticulous, dark, acid-influenced techno and house, the rest of the world easily latches onto Hyde’s pop vocals and rock inflections. No wonders their Trainspotting anthem, “Born Slippy,” was such a huge hit. The song is actually a frenetic mess of hardcore tribal drums, kept accessible by Hyde’s sung tale of a “lipstick boy.” The crowd lost their shit when the forever-recognizable synth-chord break washed over the party in the aisles. It appears that, twenty years on, Underworld is still one of the most relevant electronic acts to grace the stage.
Paul Oakenfold’s opening set begged the question: why does the biggest DJ in the world need to spoil his already kinda putrid trance with the addition of live instruments? He was joined onstage by tabla, violin, and some kind of lute. If I want lutes, I’ll go to Ren Faire, thank you. I guess they had it all planned out, but I could swear one of the songs morphed into the Deadwood theme song. Oakenfold was all pumping fists and flowing hair, but it just wasn’t working. The crowd seemed mostly content to fill its collective belly with picnic goodies and wine while it waited for the headlining act.