Sunday, November 25, 2007

Underworld: Oblivion Ball

I owe Underworld a great deal. If it hadn't've been for Dubnobasswithmyheadman taking residence on my stereo and in my head during my first year of Uni, I'd probably still be listening to... well, I shudder to think. Maybe I'd be of the opinion that Kaiser Chiefs represented British rock at its mercurial best? Or that James Blunt was a sensitive and engaging artiste with a voice like old honey, rather than an unutterable ballsak with a voice like gagging on sick. Who's to say? I do know that, before Underworld, and with only a few honorary precursors (The Shamen, The Orb), the music I liked had to have choruses, guitars, drums; the indie litany, all present and correct.

But Dubnosbass was a passport to a quite different sonic dimension (having already turned down The Prodigy's earlier and (then) less appealing promise to take my brain to said other dimension): not only was it a thunderous and beguiling album in its own right, it was as if someone had just turned the colour on. Suddenly, I got the point of beats, could see the possibilities of 4/4; realised that I'd be listening to music like this from then on.

So when we learned we could combine our trip to Japan with a chance to see Underworld, Andrew Weatherall, Simian Mobile Disco and a couple of locals acts, we were cock-a-hoop (which turned to ecstasy-on-toast when we managed to get tickets to see Daft Punk in Kobe). On the other hand, their most recent album, Oblivion With Bells, sounded a bit vanilla on the few, admittedly not close, listens I8d given it. Were the band finally reaching the end of their productive span after the better part of 20 years?

Tish and nonsense. On the evidence of last night's gig in the cavernous Makuhari Messe in Tokyo (easily sold-out), Underworld are, if anything, at the peak of their powers. They played a truly mammoth set of crowd-pleasers, roof-raisers and floor-shakers and had the crowd of 20,000 staggeringly stylish Japanese and two not-quite-so stylish-thank-you-very-much westerners reaching a state the Buddhists call satori but I call ohmygodthatwasAMAZING. Samurai dancing, beat bushido: whatever it was, we were going off. A song like Rowla, for instance, became a frightening acid squall; a frankly barbaric King Of Snake was divine, unending; even the new songs seemed little short of perfect. From

They hit us with the ever-circling beat-storm of Pearl's Girl, and followed it with a euphoric Two Months Off. Ahh those synths. I wanted it all to stop. I never wanted it to stop. They finished with Moaner, a song I'd never really come to terms with in the past; and yet, in the context, it was spell-binding, Karl Hyde throwing Elvis poses in his glittering silver jacket, ranting in the purple spotlight like the scary but lovable cockney loon we know him to be. Toss in a towering Cowgirl and a delirious Born Slippy, and you've got the mother and father of all live shows. Shock and awe doesn't cover it.

They play an encore of Jumbo, the blissful synths and gaseous pads a relief from the frenzy of the last two+ hours, and we walked (!) back to our hotel to some dubstep from Weatherall, before losing consciousness at around 4am.

There's no WAY that Daft Punk can top that. Right?


Apologies for having been away so very long. Since we've A) packed up our entire lives and left Australia, B) spent a rather crazed month traveling in China and C) found ourselves in the middle of Japan, updating this blog has been both tricky AND hard. As the ad very nearly says, Impossible Is Something.

Oh yes, and D). I lost my iPod. 80gbs worth of music down the wazoo, just like that. So, apart from Radiohead's album, I've had very little new music to listen to. And yet, apart from the embarrassment and anger of losing such a valuable piece of hardware (and a birthday present to boot), I don't feel too bad. It means I can start all over again. I will only upload albums that I WILL listen to.

This is my pledge, and I will keep it. Definitely.


The man Barrie on McCarthy's frighteningly good The Road. Nothing to add really, except to say that Blood Meridian is in my top five books EVAH ("What are the others?" I'm not telling**), not least because I could reliably freak Shana out by reading aloud from its blood-soaked pages (not literally blood-soaked, I hope you understand. That would be weird), especially the first Indian attack, the poor horse bitten on the face by a snake, and the final hallucinatory scenes with the Judge and the Kid.

*Though, to be fair, I only got hold of it in my last couple of weeks in Australia, when finding time to give albums the Deep Listen was far from easy.

** " Cos you don't know", etc.