Melbourne veterans Underground Lovers have staged one of the most impressive reunions of the last decade, putting out three new albums of strong new material that have pushed and expanded their hypnotic indie-dance sound into new territory. They are also still a pretty amazing live band, putting in a memorable comeback show at Badlands just over 18 months ago, which drew a surprisingly large crowd.
They returned tonight to promote new album A Left Turn, and while the numbers weren’t quite as good this time around, they still managed to pull it off in some style.
The support act was popular local sad-pop shoegazers Peppermint Showers, who come on stage with an array of effects pedals laid on stage in front of them. While they have totally mastered the genre, the songs don’t quite carry the weight of the huge atmospheric sound. Or maybe they just aren’t immediate enough. Cold Case Holiday has a nice Cocteau Twins-style melody, while closing song Dominoes almost works up a genuine storm. You can see the potential here for sure. It will be interesting to see what they do next.
Eventually, Underground Lovers assemble on stage and start making a ferocious racket, and immediately the floor fills up. They do a pretty short set but for about an hour or so the place is completely in the palm of their hands. For this tour, they seem to have drilled down to the classic core of the sound which made their reputation in early 90s Melbourne – a driving Happy Mondays-style rhythm section with torrents of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine-like guitar on top. It still holds up well; still feels like a glimpse into another future.
The newer songs actually really stand out – Bells is toughened up to sound like a lost satellite crashing to earth while the propulsive Hooky almost soundtracks a bar fight with its lyric about male aggression (complete with reference to New Order’s legendary bass player). The centrepiece of the set is a huge, extended version of Every Sign, which sounds something like a brilliant lost Can outtake from the early 70s, with its rumbling bassline and psychedelic loops – an old, arty sci-fi movie playing out in your head.
Things dip slightly as the drummer goes offstage for Holiday – a gorgeous song but the electronic beats sound a bit weedy straight after the real thing. A few fine songs later and then the encore and we hear Promenade, the 1991 single which first brought the band to national notice, waves crashing on the beach, and then the trip is over. The young folk here who look like they came to see the support band stand around looking impressed, like they are making mental notes, as they obviously should.
Maybe just five minutes after the show various band members are already hanging around chatting and drinking with fans, fielding questions, totally lacking in ego and industry bullshit. This is a band who actually fought a legal battle in the mid-90s to leave a major label which was pushing them to make a huge pop record. Instead, they have given us one of the most varied and richest back catalogues you can find in Australian music (although the great Wonderful Things compilation has strangely disappeared from a few online services – can someone fix this please?)
For a band with a relatively small Perth following, it was decent of them to come all this way over again, although a smaller venue would definitely have worked better. As an older band, you can’t really do the album/ tour cycle thing any more, unless you are U2. Not that Underground Lovers would have cared that much, they know the game well enough themselves; the ups, downs and all. For the punters, we still got to see a terrific live band in full flight yet again. Honestly, it was more than enough.
Photos by Linda Dunjey