Reviw and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisA rave town Chicago is not, but when U.K. based electronica group Underworld came to the Riviera Theatre, it turned the venue into a pulsating dance club. In keeping with the dance club mentality, Underworld took the stage nearly 90 minutes after the 8:00p.m. starting time, not even opening doors until then, forcing several blocks worth of fans to wait outside in the dropping temperatures for what seemed like eternity. Surprisingly, attendees didn't mind, and instead of adapting a typical "concert" mindset going into the show, they treated the Riv as if it were indeed a dance club, continuously pouring in and filing out at all hours of the night. And what a long night it was! Underworld didn't take the stage until 9:30p.m., after the virtually identical 90-minute series of break beats and mixes by an unidentified DJ. Even after the group wrapped up their portion of the party just before midnight, those DJ's beats continued as weary patrons exited for the night.
Underworld members Karl Hyde and Rick Smith truly do know how to throw a party, and rather than seeing a thinning fan base turn out after the departure of fellow colleague Darren Emerson, the crowd size was significantly bigger than last tour's sold out House of Blues appearance. Aside from the line-up shift (which if you didn't know about before coming to the show wouldn't have effected your experience in the least) the group has stayed very close to their soulful and sexy guitar accented trip through electronic overload.
Touring in support of their new Hundred Days Off record, the group has once again chosen to incorporate an amazing light show into their stage time. Rather than just your typical arrangement of spotlights and smoke like you'd see at a rock show, Hyde and Smith's time behind the mixing board was accented by a complimentary sensory experience, with a constant onslaught of coordinated laser beams, fog machines, and a live video feed engulfing the floor to ceiling backdrop of puffy silver squares.
It was in this setting that cuts like "Two Months Off" and "Cups" were quite effective, as were songs with more lyrical content like "Pearls Girl" and "Rez/Cowgirl." In fact, the mantra-like chants on the latter selections had a particularly hypnotic effect on the crowd, while Hyde (a Moby look-a-like) basked in the intense effect of two strobe lights, heightening the spectacular visual experience. Of course, the audience was most receptive to Underworld's one and only true hit, the fluke "Born Slippy Nuxx," which was culled from the Trainspotting soundtrack.
The duo stuck to a similarly extended arrangement as they did on 2000's concert recording Everything, Everything, but midway through the epic cut had a series of impeding technical difficulties. The first time Smith's console shut down seemed like it was possibly planned, with Hyde trying out some rap-like improvisation, but as the front man turned to his partner desperately fumbling in the dark trying to fix the electronic glitch, he knew something was going terribly wrong. At first the crowd was accepting of the mistake and roared with forgiveness, but as the band's technician scrambled onto stage, Hyde attempted to stall with some indecipherable banter that didn't fair too well. When the problem was finally fixed nearly two minutes later, the momentum was hard to re-capture, making Underworld's crowning career achievement to be their biggest in concert disappointment.
Regardless of that disastrous interpretation of "Born Slippy," Underworld competently provided the continuous soundtrack to Monday night's most exiting party in the city, turning even the most inexperienced club goers into a trance induced regular. The group's combination of showmanship and sensory supplementation more than made up for the technical difficulties and the fact they had no backing band on stage. Several weary and red eyed concertgoers most certainly skipped work or school the next day, and would probably take a "hundred days off" if they could to recover from the mesmerizing experience.
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