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Underworld Kick Off U.S. Tour

British trio prove livelier than the average techno band.

NEW YORK -- Dancing frenetically, like some Ecstasy-addled aerobics

instructor, Karl Hyde was anything but the picture of your average, low-key

electronica frontman Wednesday night.

But Underworld, who launched a U.S. tour the night before, are hardly your

average electronica group. While others, including Orbital or the Chemical

Brothers, rely almost entirely on their music, Underworld, whose music is

multilayered and sensual, know also how to work a crowd. And that's what they

did Wednesday at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

The trio's entrance, following a crisp DJ set by Detroit's Richie Hawtin, was

unassuming enough. The show began with a simple, echoed keyboard riff -- the

aural equivalent of throwing a pat of butter in the frying pan to begin a

sauté. There were a good two minutes of this anticipatory ringing before

any layers of sound were added.

The first song eventually revealed itself to be the epic "Dark & Long," from

Underworld's 1994 debut album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman. The

sellout crowd of 3,300 proved as animated as the band. With no prodding from

the trio -- Hyde, programmer Rick Smith and DJ Darren Emerson -- glowstick-

wearing fans spontaneously responded, gesticulating wildly to the thundering

bass and shimmering keyboards.

Hyde, Underworld's main interface with fans, is their chief entertainment

weapon. During the second song, the new single "Push Upstairs," he launched

into an aerobic dance while singing at breakneck speed over a huge, house-

like track. Wearing headphones and a sweat-soaked gray T-shirt, he radiated

energy.

He wasn't the only visual aid Underworld offered, though. Hyde and Smith have

day jobs in England running an advertising and graphic-design firm, Tomato.

Graham Wood, Andy Bramler and a host of other Tomato mates provided

visuals that complemented Underworld's chic sound.

Four giant screens stood above and behind the stage. Underworld performed

live video mixdowns to go along with their live audio mixdowns; the video

graphics mixed live camera work with the minimal, distorted text that is Tomato's

signature.

"Push Upstairs" is from Underworld's third full-length album, Beaucoup

Fish, released a week before the show. In a surprising move, they played

only three more songs from it, concentrating instead on older material.

Their rendition of "Jumbo," from Beaucoup Fish, midway through the set

perhaps offered an explanation: A minute into the track, all sound cut out and

confusion reigned onstage as Smith and Emerson held a quick meeting over

their computers and sequencers. Eventually, Smith got the song up and running

again as Hyde offered apologies with a good-natured "It's a live show after all."

Indeed it was live. Few electronica bands try as hard as Underworld do to make

every show different. The segues between songs often became songs

themselves. Smith and Emerson appeared in control of their craft as they

continually tweaked and refined each song on the fly. Nowhere was this more

evident than on the rolling, percussive "Pearl's Girl," from Second Toughest

in the Infants (1996).

But the lads conceded to the bottom line and offered up a straight rendition of

the song that made their name in the United States.

"Born Slippy" (RealAudio excerpt),

their anthem from the "Trainspotting" soundtrack, received --

predictably enough -- the most enthusiastic response of the night.

Underworld closed the varied set with a new-world anthem, the pulsing disco

number "King of Snake."

"I thought they went down excellent," 21-year-old Scottish expatriate Jonathan

Hough said. "I've seen them before in the UK, and this was better than any

show I've seen."