The end of the work week, and New York City felt unusually hushed as I strolled towards Central Park. Once in the park, the spacey rhythms led the way to the entrance to Rumsey Playfield. It was odd - I had both high expectations and no expectations as to how the evening would unfold. Purposely or not, I'd trekked across the U.S. and ended up going to three Daft Punk shows in the past year. And while I make it a rule to not compare artists to each other, I'd had quite a few people saying to me that Underworld would either blow away my Daft Punk experience, or at least be comparable to it. I couldn't really see it, but obviously part of me wanted to believe it, or else I wouldn't have flown all the way here from Miami.
Following the blippy sounds over to the stage, I was surprised to run into more than a few industry people who had journeyed from different cities in order to be here. The traveling raver quotient was also definitely high. I know of at least one person who flew in not for the headliner, but for the opener James Holden, Mr. Border Community himself, who played a welcoming and very laid-back set. It was difficult to gauge whether the crowd was into it though because the sun was just setting - a bit early for most of us night-lifers. During Holden's set, the majority of the people were just filing in to choose their best vantage point, and the music was a soundtrack to that. But even Underworld opened with a downtempo track, 'Luetin', so you couldn''t say that Holden was there to hype people up.
Before the show, Underworld front man Karl Hyde read some words in praise of New York City, the last stops of their U.S. tour. I was just glad the concert was going ahead in Central Park - three days before their recently scheduled show at the wondrous Red Rocks in Colorado, they moved to an indoor and obviously less spectacular setting. The weather and tree-lined Central Park setting felt ideal. In contrast to our natural surroundings, the stage was a techy wet dream: computers, industrial size strands of wires, and Underworld's impressive, custom-built equipment panel. At the helms of the gear were Rick Smith and Darren – no, not Emerson but Price - now considered part of Underworld Live. Not only is he their in-house engineer now but reportedly he has remixed more Underworld tracks then any other producer.
Underworld ran through quite a few of the standards, such as 'Cowgirl', 'Two Months Off', and the track which got the strongest crowd reaction, 'Born Slippy'. Standouts were a moody 'Rowla', the new and pounding, synth-filled 'Beautiful Burnout', and 'Crocodile', the current single from 'Oblivion With Bells', with its dreamy soundscape and and exploding bassline. But the highlight of the set was another of their new tracks, 'Glam Bucket', accompanied by Space Invaders visuals, which Rick appeared to rock out to as well – maybe it was his favorite, too. During 'Two Months Off' what looked like jumbo, colorful condoms were inflated (with a bit of a struggle) on both sides of the stage, while Karl sang and played guitar, prancing joyously around the stage in a sequined, disco-ball-like shirt.
Fans reciprocated by singing along to their favorite songs, and for the most part people appeared to be having a grand ol' time. But I couldn't help but notice that there were also quite a few of us who occasionally seemed bored. This may have been due to the fact that both the visual and sound quality were sub-par for those who weren't crammed in among the masses in the center. Also their classics sounded just as they always have, and in my opinion I would have preferred to hear them mix it up a bit more.
Then the evening seemed to end almost abruptly - but upbeat - as the trio chose 'Jumbo' for their encore song. Even though I walked away realizing that I had in fact expected something more, it was an enjoyable evening in the park. And while I can't say I was blown away, it always feels good to be a part of an event where the music is gratifying, the genre classification is blurred, and the majority of the crowd disperses with fond memories and smiles on their faces.