On Sunday night, L. and I went to see Underworld at the Hollywood Bowl. This is the first time I’ve ever seen them in concert, but it’s been a long time coming. Like most people, I first encountered Underworld in the movie “Trainspotting” back in the spring of 1996, and promptly bought their first two albums: “dubnobasswithmyheadman” and “Second Toughest in the Infants.” The music was deceptively simple, but like all great music it burned itself deep into my brain and became part of my soundtrack for life. With the first album in particular, I didn’t know how much I liked it until I had stopped listening to it for a few days, and found that the songs were still playing in my head.
When I saw U2 in concert that summer, the show was prefaced by the “Pearl’s Girl” EP, blaring from massive speakers. I found myself wishing that I had come to see Underworld in concert, instead of U2. I spent the rest of the summer listening to that EP over and over, everywhere I went. The title song still gives me chills whenever I listen to it, and I dare anyone to try and sit still while it’s playing.
In the spring of 2000, Underworld released their third album (and last with DJ Darren Emerson). “Beaucoup Fish” became part of the soundtrack for my summer in London – a place where it was impossible to ESCAPE the pulsing beat of electronic music. While I was there, I remember talking to one of my college professors – a jazz saxophonist – about the effect of the music. He derided popular electronic music because it was so predictable - most songs combining the basic four-count of jazz with the repetitiveness of pop music. There is nothing, he said, intellectual about it. I agreed, but frankly I don’t want all my music to be intellectual. To me, the most powerful effect of music is its ability to convey PURE EMOTION, completely detached from intellect.
Underworld is, pure and simple, the music of anticipation and exhilaration. I felt it on Sunday night as I waited for the musicians to take the stage. I felt it as their set list gradually built from slower tracks to faster tracks. I couldn’t sit still. Three days later, the music is still playing in my head.
I haven’t bought any of Underworld’s post-Darren Emerson music, but if the concert is any indication of what I’m missing, I will have to buy their upcoming album (due in October). The live performance of their new single, “Crocodile,” blew me away. I can’t help noting that the album version is more anti-climactic than the live performance… but I also know that Underworld is not the kind of band you listen to one song at a time. You listen until you’ve forgotten that you’re listening, until the apparent simplicity of the music has fooled your brain into believing that it’s all the same.
That’s when the music gets under your skin, and that’s when a very minor change can pull the rug out from under you – when the music, and by extension whatever you’re doing at the time, becomes completely new and exciting.