Far Out was once again at the Albert Hall in Manchester last night to witness the long awaited return of a duo who are a true heavyweight of electronic music.

Underworld rocketed to stardom in the 1990s, taking inspiration from the techno and house sounds of Chicago and Detroit, but reimagining them with a very British twist.

It was in 1994 that they released Dubnobasswithmyheadman, a record that is generally considered to be their finest moment.

Since then there have been side projects, including frontman Karl Hyde’s 2014 collaboration with Brian Eno, but the 20th Anniversary of the album compelled he and Rick Smith to take it back out on the road.

A tantalizing glimpse of what is to come can already be seen upon entering venue in the shape of the gigantic rigs that sit each side of the stage.

After a suitably beat-heavy warm up, Hyde and Smith emerge through a cloud of dry ice and launch into the record’s opening number ‘Dark & Long’. Immediately the audience – many of whom look like they were definitely there first time around – are encapsulated by the groove.

Although they are occasionally maligned for being an easy money maker, anniversary tours can also be a useful gauge of artists who can really be considered visionaries. Such is the case tonight, as the record sounds as fresh as it did back in the days when Ibiza was actually all it’s cracked up to be and Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting had the power to capture a generation.

It was the inclusion of ‘Born Slippy’ in the production of Irvine Welsh’s classic that helped push Underworld into the realms of world domination, but the fact that it doesn’t appear on the album has a few questioning whether it will be thrown in.

In the end it matters neither way as the earth shattering rendition of the album in full brings with it more than enough euphoric moments to set the venue alight. “It’s great to be back in Manchester, we’ve had some good times here”, grins Hyde knowingly, suggesting some of the memories triggered might be a little more hedonistic than he’s letting on.

Nowadays he’s older and probably a bit wiser, but that takes nothing away from his trademark strut and insatiable swagger. The set seamlessly switches between pounding techno, dub reggae and lo-fi chillout at various junctures, with Hyde demonstrating a versatility that sees him go from hyping the crowd to vibing out guitar. It’s a masterful performance from a seasoned pro with more life experience than both the Disclosure brothers combined.

He knows when to let the set breathe too, leaving Smith to enchant the crowd through some fine instrumental work. And in the end  the duo do choose to throw a few extras into the mix. The funky house of ‘Bigmouth’ has even the ageing audience members who must nearly be ready for bed up and rocking before they disappear from the stage.

But there’s time for one last moment of ecstasy as they return for an encore that unleashes ‘Born Slippy’. As Hyde belts out the iconic “lager, lager, lager” vocal line there is a slight feeling that a few towards the back are refusing to lose their inhibitions as much as they did back in the day, but the whole venue is unified in agreeing that Underworld have most definitely still got it. Will they ever burn out? Not based on this sublime piece of evidence.

Patrick Davies

Comments