A few weeks ago Underworld
, their new album.
This can only mean one thing.
And it does - Ticketmaster appropriately worshipped, monies spent, Wednesday drifting by at work in a blur of unconscious prep and tightening of the psyche, subway navigated and midtown streets slid down to reach Roseland-
The venue is 1990s industrial. I saw a show here, back then, but I can't remember who it was. Portishead? Massive Attack? I just don't know, but I remember this place. The mezzanine surfacing clearly industrial plywood, blasted with black or dark brown Krylon. The shudderingly hideous carpet, looking like it was taken from the room of a motel just outside Reno which was last renovated in the Fifties as an hourly rate love nest. The bars, in brisk operation along the back and behind the stage...
The floor, visible in a few places, is incongruously nice, wood shining from underneath the insulting carpeting and the dropcloths and duct tape which hide the cabling to the sound booth in the middle. The floor carries a proud and sad reminder that once the Roseland was a ballroom, a ball room, with dancing and big band and tables with linen and waiters in natty uniforms, where dancing was between couples only and the atmosphere was genteel with a heavy sprinkling of sex and sex games, Victorian suppressed and redirected.
The fog increases for the handoff, and the strobes begin to sync slowly to the beats, which themselves slow and move into the bass as the lights on stage go out to cover the shuffling about that's happening.
Hello New York!
It's a cliche, and it always works.
What would happen if someone from that era were to fall through a a hole in space and time and appear, now, in the middle of the same dance floor in 2010? The show is underway, several tens of thousands of watts (maybe hundreds) are transducing through the speaker stacks - the fog machine has left a thin haze in the air for the myriad chase lights and lasers and LED panels and other implements of photonic disruption. The noise level is intense. If that 1930s time traveler were to appear, they would probably assume the worst - the end of the world, a cannibal frenzy, the apocalypse, and they'd be right.
Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan is brilliant because the City it depicts is a seamless extrapolation of American culture of the 1990s/2000s - a place horrific to us in many ways but simply urban living to its inhabitants, much the same way that the crowds of us here in the venue treat the sonic and photonic assault and the rough edges of the worn queen of ballrooms, her makeup sagging and her cigarette hanging, as just where we live now.
The first song is something I don't easily identify. It's been twelve years since I started listening to this band, and their later and more recent work is not as familiar to me. I'm old school, here. Me and the scattering of other greybeards sprinkled through the audience, an audience containing an impressive mix of ages.
Only at these shows will I dance. Around me, dozens of out of shape geeks, all of us yanked out of our body self consciousness for just the time, all of us in sync and rhythm, all of our jerky and awkward movements somehow smoothed and beautified by the shared submersion in the sound-
and my tears interleave with the wires and energy and my machine this is my beautiful dream
The colors of the lights are a storm of phosphenic violence, the strobes and LEDs and Lekos and par cans and scoops. The reds and yellows, and the purples and the greens, and the bright hot white of nova strobes, their elements visible in twisting fury. Bassline in time with the lights, senses on palpable overload as the crowd sways in time, all of us here and now all of us one thing one thing one bright thing-
And it's okaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy....
Tonight, here, it's okay.
I'm lonely, like nearly all nights, but here, tonight, it's okay. Loneliness is still life.
I'm aging and somewhat unwell, but here, tonight, it's okay. Aging is still life.
I'm depressed and angry and bitter and sad, but here, tonight, it's okay. Sadness is still life.
Here, today, I will sing.
Here, today, I will dance.
Here, today, I will lift my face as I shout lyrics; close my eyes, sway, let myself bump against my neighbors who will in turn thump into me, breathe in our sweat and the beer and the pot and the fog juice and the tobacco smoke and the ozone.
Underworld live in concert
Roseland Ballroom, New York City
October 27th, 2010