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PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 4:18 pm 
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Underworld - AsiaWorld Arena - 30/9/09 - by Nick the Bookman

Where the hell is everyone? It's about 2040 and the Underworld gig at AsiaWorld Arena is due to start in twenty minutes. I'm sitting in Hall 10 where the food and booze is waiting to be sold to all the hungry/thirsty punters and there's less than two dozen ticket holders here. Humungous hordes have hurtled into the Arena (at the far end of this massive building complex) to be tormented by Canto- or Mando- or Japanese/Korean toy boy bands. Big family outings, enlivened up with nervous tension and screaming fits that would no doubt bring tears of recollection and dread to the eyes of the surviving Beatles. But here, here in Hall 11, the crowd is sparse. So, what's going on?

It's Underworld's HK debut and the date of this concert was known several months ago. Ticket prices are a reasonably affordable $540 (if bought by the end of July) and $590 after that. It's a stand up show and the Hall won't be carved up into go/no go zones. I dislike the staggered prices and seating/standing areas with the rigid crash barriers. The same style barriers that were used when twenty or so people were crushed to death in Lan Kwai Fong during a New Year's Eve happening some two decades ago (I can't remember the exact year at the moment). Anyway, Nine Inch Nails showed it was workable to have a one-price policy and let the fans wander hither and yon without getting hurt. Most of the big raves that were held at HITEC worked on the same principle except for a crush zone separating the performance and chill out areas.

It's 2100 and the gates are open. Inside Hall 11, I'm met with a blast of unhinged grungy-house-techno. The DJ's are local act Headroom and show no signs of stopping imminently. Basically, I've been expecting a concert with Underworld on stage about 2145. They'll play about two hours with time for me to get the Airport Express to Central and last ferry home. It's slowly sinking in that I am not at a concert, but a rave. I've brought my wrong head tonight. The problem is that the promotors TRiKS haven't made this crystal clear. I got my information about the show from the SCMP, bought a ticket at Ticketek and wasn't told at any time to prepare for a late night out. I'm not opposed to being at a rave. It's just that I've bought a Same Day rail ticket (whichj I can't use). I haven't bought a weekend ticket on the ferry, figuring I'll be on the last one home. The shuttle buses that are laid on to help people get home only cover Kowloon. Price $22. A taxi to the ferry pier costs about $250. I haven't brought enough money and I'm meant to be working Sunday. If I'd known that Underworld wouldn't be starting until midnight, I would have made different arrangements. According to the people from TRiKS, this information is available on "our website", but I feel that TRiKS have been a little vague (TRiKSy, if you will) in letting people know this. I'm not the only one caught out. Graham and Susie, who also live on Lamma, were equally unaware.. At this point, I'm not sure if I'll stay or go.

I've decided to stay. Have phoned home to let Lena know I'll be back late. Worry about tickets and other shit later. After all, it's Underworld and I want to see them live. Even though I'm more familiar with their work as Freur in the mid-eighties. More and more people are arriving and buying drinks. It's $100 for a glass of chamagne. $80 for a glass of hard liquor. A pint of Carlsberg is $60. Red/white wine is $40 a glass. The food ranges from $15 for sweets or chocolate to $40 for a salad. Some good money to be made. More people are crowding into the hall. Headroom have cranked up the sounds. Sirens blare, Whistles, Thumping drums and bass tremors. Sounds like a choreographed police raid and I'm feeling bored. Aah, someone I recognise. It's Siu with his waist length hair. He did the mixing for bands playing at the Fringe Club when I last saw him. So, hi to Siu and his mates, Sik, Money and Pius. Hope you liked the show.

It's about 2230 and Headroom are done. The next DJ is Japan's Tomoyuki Tanaka, also known as Fantastic Plastic Machine. He starts off slowly with some dreary house and soul/r'n'b vocalists who remind me of the worst of the sincere crooning black artistes who over sugar their appearances on America's Got Talent. The type of vocalists who seem to be much beloved by the more irritating Hedkandi DJ's. Fortunately, it doesn't last long and as the music gets tougher, I go back in. Bump into a few more friends. Tommy, who I've shared times with at many a rave in the last decade. Big hi to Teresa who used to write reviews and music stories for a Chinese magazine. She says she's read some of my reviews on hkclubbing, back when I wrote for them. And here's your little mention Teresa, as promised. And the same goes for Craig, Lauren and Tim. And Helen (ex-Lamma) and her mate Darrell who live in Disco Bay, but have to go home via three islands after this show.

FPM is pulling out all the stops now. The beats are tougher, more dub grimy. There are bursts of gritty electronica, mixed with slowed down and phase shifted breaks. Vocals are distorted and merge into ethereal trance melodies. FPM also plunders the rock vaults of the late 60's and early 70's and branches out into his own roots history. There are fine prog touches and a wonderful few minutes when the harmonica solo theme music from The Old Grey Whistle Test gets a fine makeover. Earlier, I was starting to feel distinctly underwhelmed about what I was hearing. My notes say I think I'm going right off rave now, but FPM has pulled me back. His set ends at midnight to wild acclaim as some Underworld roadies help remove the decks from the stage, while some quiet reggae plays as a warm up.

Underworld's gear is constructed in an upside down "U", the open end facing the audience. There are keyboards, banks of computer screens and electronic boxes, quietly humming and blinking away. Great blasts of scented concert smoke billow across the stage at odd intervals. About a dozen huge columns are behind the gear. They look like ten-metre high neon bolster covers A light show of blotches, computer squiggles and microbes slowly unfolds on them. I've dropped back to the producer's mixing desk. Best place to stand at a show, if you can't get right up front. Underworld are a duo, have been for years, but they're joined by a third keyboard player on stage. Plus a couple of roadies and three people handling the lights and sound. Karly Hyde is the de facto leader/frontman. Rick Smith, the backroom boffin handling the music. The first tune starts faintly, growing to a crescendo over several minutes. The aural equivalent of watching a small wave rolling relentlessly towards you on a beach. Someone nudges me. It's Bobbsy, with his hair growing out again. He looks delirious to be here. Advancing closer to the action.

I can't say I know every Underworld track. In fact, the only one I recognise is "Born Slippy" from 1996. Their more recent output has emerged in cyberspace. The TRiKS press release says they have the "ability to instill soulfulness and empathetic humanity into the most anthemic club banger". They "fuse elements of techno, dub, trance, Krautrock, drum n' bass, ambient house and blues, complementing and contrasting sounds and emotions" along "with Karl Hyde's prescient, opague and strikingly poetic lyrics" That sounds about right. Karl is a ball of energy in a sparkle jacket, jeans and trainers. He's throwing gym poses, strutting and dancing, shadow-boxing almost while his voice soars and he ripples away at the keyboard. He looks a little bit like Tony Blair with a puckish sense of humour. A Tony Blair you can trust and want to have a drink/spliff with. Not the pious hypocrite who got Britain into five wars. A man who won't know peace of mind until he admits his Words of Malign Deception (WMD) campaign failed. A man who foisted the unelected and unloved "Incapability" Brown on Britain. Tom Cruise will win an Oscar before Tony Bliar gets "gonged" by the Establishment. And enough of that cheapjack tawdry piker. Private Eye puts the boot into him far better than I can.

Underworld play a two-hour set. There are many peaks, Some tunes are almost light neo-classical keyboards. Vocals tumble and soar. Drums clatter and grest bass lines make the far walls tremble. A huge circular screen floats above the stage, showing soothing New Age nature scenes. Fields, mountains, seas and rivers, twilight scenes etc. The screen is similar to the one used by Roger Waters in his Dark Side Of The Moon concert in 2007. Strobe lights are used sparingly, but effectively. Coloured searchlights explode like sparklers. Red, Green, Violet and Blue. One techno like performance features Karl bashing furiously away on guitar. Strumming and picking at about 120 beats per minute. The stage is bathed in vivid night scene greens like Hell's medical wards. There's a short intro blast for "Born Slippy" which sparks roars of recognition and encouragement. Just a hint, though. The track starts about 10 minutes later. The electric bolster covers have fallen down in an intertwined jumble, like pick up sticks, A dozen or so huge white balloons are bobbing and bouncing around the stage and the audience are cheerfully batting and flailing away at them. I think I see Graham and Susie at one point. So, they decided to stay as well. An old friend Karina, has arrived with her younger sister Danielle. That's good news for me as I can hitch a ride back to Central with them after the show.

The show is about to finish. Karl is thanking the audience "for a great reception tonight. Our first time In Hong Kong, Our first time in China" He bows, the music stops and like that the band has disappeared and like Elvis, has left the building. It's about 0230 and people are filing out in wonder-struck confusion. General comments are about how great the show was. It was, but I've still got five hours to kill before my ferry home and that tempers my enthusiasm somewhat. The next gig is British Sea Power and The Yours at Grappas on 10/10/09. Hopefully, it will finish at a civilised hour, but Grappas is only 7 minutes away from the ferry. See you there. ntb

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2012 4:42 pm 
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Lamma-Gung wrote:
Underworld - AsiaWorld Arena - 30/9/09 - by Nick the Bookman


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