When Karl Hyde celebrates ‘going back to Romford’ in Underworld’s era-defining song Born Slippy, this is about as close as he can get. Perched on the top of North London, he’s hit the sweet spot of an exultant two-hour set in the company of die-hard Underworlders, many of whom are marvelling at his continued zest for stage life.
Let’s not forget Rick Smith, though, purveyor of towering riffs, lush keyboard backdrops and the signature rolling Underworld kick drum, which on occasion feels like it is sitting beneath the very foundations of Alexandra Palace, intent on disturbing the roots in the garden centre.
There is a strong assurance about Underworld these days, topped by a feeling of contentment shown most clearly in the material from most recent album Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future. The cuts from this record are slow burners but have a staying power and a close resonance for Smith and Hyde, following the loss of Rick’s dad. At times Hyde disappears into the message of these monologues, as though talking to just one person rather than several thousand.
Still the kick drums roll, and the sonorous bass notes pierce the atmospheric smoke. A magnetic Low Burn reaches far and wide with its cinematic textures, while the minimal approach of I Exhale works well in this company, aided by a subtle yet powerful light show.
As the gig progresses the visuals become more expressive. Glowering clouds of smoke issue forth for a feral version of Kittens, while for the Rez / Cowgirl double header, a pounding winner, Hyde disappears almost completely. “I’m invisible,” indeed.
The softer side of Underworld is also exposed, complementing the reflective Barbara excerpts. We enjoy four tracks from 1999 album Beaucoup Fish, including the medley of Cups and Push Upstairs, the transition between them a thrilling rush of keyboards and breakbeats. Then the lights are up fully and we are bathed in yellow and orange for the gig’s crowning glory, Born Slippy. Thousands of hands reached for the Alexandra Palace roof.
It is a reminder of Underworld’s staying power. Their rise to the top table of electronic music was confirmed by the the track’s pivotal role in Trainspotting, but 20 years on, with the sequel in cinemas, Underworld are still here too. Karl Hyde’s poetic insights, while endearingly weird (the word ‘potato’ cropped up at one point) are touching, and complement the large scale, cinematic textures that comfortably fill Alexandra Palace.
A whole generation grew up with Underworld – and, on the evidence here of raised hands and dancing feet, are steadfastly refusing to let them go.