Recently, I've come to realize that presenting a top-notch live electronic music show is a tricky thing, indeed. I mean, it's absolutely crucial for an artist to traverse that weird balance between presenting some sort of "traditional," bringing-it-to-the-stage showmanship and letting the twitchy beats speak for themselves. And to be even more blunt, let's ask the obvious question: does the crowd really want to be staring at some knob-twiddling DJ for a couple of hours?
So after seeing this summer's Daft Punk live extravaganza, I was somewhat dubious on how any live electronic act would be able to top a pair of charismatic-yet-silent robots and a glowing, living pyramid. But I have to say that I was genuinely surprised at how much fun I had at the recent Underworld show at NYC's esteemed Central Park Summerstage.
As soon as front man Karl Hyde hit the stage, the crowd erupted in a huge roar of joy. The pulsing opening beats to "Luetin," kicked in, and the crowd started to jump up and dance in a kind of communal, syncopated rhythm that I haven't experienced in quite a while. Additionally, the always-amazing Tomato collective again provided a backdrop of diverse visual imagery: fractals segueing into a series of phrases and a never-ending array of colors that splashed the stage with neon colors. Weirdly, however, there were also these inflated, lighted "projections" that really didn't work for the performance, as they pretty much blocked the view for anyone that wasn't set up dead center to the stage.
But anyway, back to the music: as Underworld tore into their lengthy set, it was obvious that this crowd was here to hear all of the duo's classic tracks. As the mixed crowd of nu-rave dance kids, slightly jaded old-school heads, and guido ravers boogied under the stars, it became super-obvious to me that even though Underworld may not have the ultimate bells-and-whistles hype that has surrounded a lot of the recent electronic acts/shows to hit American shores, their live show is all about the music.
Tracks like "Pearls Girl," "Rez/Cowgirl," "King of Snake," and the iconic "Born Slippy (Nuxx)" (aka the Trainspotting song) drove the die-hard fans into a blind frenzy, similarly reminding me of some weirdo Brooklyn warehouse rave, transported into the lush confines of Central Park. Add in Hyde's legendary frantic dancing (kudos to him, as I've heard that he's 50 years young! Wow!), and this show basically wills attendees to get off their asses and dance. And dance I did, oh yes!
To get a chance to see one of the most seminal dance bands in the world, playing a soundtrack of tunes that references the core elements of house, trance, techno, and ambient music, is a rare treat best enjoyed under the stars. Underworld's Rick Smith and Karl Hyde seem to understand that sometimes, it's best to let the music do the heavy lifting.
Photos by Gabriel Kuo
Video by Saidah Blount