Sometimes all it takes is a note.
This winter shall be reflected upon as a season of snow days. I am home now, the victim of the latest snow day (actually due to icy conditions in my county of employ). I am sitting at my desk sifting through the mountain of redundant files in my computer. I come across a file labeled Bootleg Babies. I open it up and investigate the contents. The title is a collection of live recordings from the band Underworld. I scan the track lists and one gig lights up my eyes and lights up my ears. Koln, Germany, 1999. Couple of clicks later I am at the trusty, crusty iTunes library. Scroll down and there it is, as it always is, between Udi Nevres Bey and Vampire Weekend: Underworld — Live in Cologne, Germany ’99. Immediately I start listening. Immediately I am back. Back where?
There are many details about my childhood that I don’t remember. I can’t tell you much of anything about Elementary school, middle school or high school. I struggle to remember things I’ve said or commented on in the past. Yet I listen to this live recording and I can pinpoint in exact detail how I ended up with this extraordinary show in my computer.
I began downloading this show on May 30th, 2000. How do I know that? In 1999 Underworld released Beaucoup Fish, a tremendous disc full of hands in the hair dance music with hips. In the month of May 2000 I was working at JAM Music on the West Side of Lansing and on May 31st, 2000, I had tickets to see Primal Scream at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit. This show, 11 songs long with a running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes, took several days to obtain via Napster. The songs of the show were all together, laid out in the banks and banks of songs. And over those days I downloaded them all. When I returned from St. Andrews and the epic, white noise, white light Primal Scream show, with my ears still ringing (my ears rang the next four days) the middle four songs of the set had completed. I have been listening to this show, in some form or fashion, ever since.
Beaucoup Fish was great, but this was even better. In 1999, the notion of an electronic band as a great live act was no longer just a joke. With Karl Hyde dancing and singing, Rick Smith and the great Darren Emerson manning the controls, Underworld delivered glistening, shimmering, beautifully euphoric music performed in front of a screen filled with art and blotches and blokes dancing. The show was devastating and for a long time it was a litmus test for people I would meet. They liked the show? Good people. Didn’t like it? Not so much.
Even now, my opinion of the show is infused with my own youthful energy and enthusiasm. When I listen to it I feel that sense within, that passion, that glow, that everything everything everything you hear in the band’s lyrics. The energy within those songs, squirrled away within me, is occasionally put to good use. Two songs from this concert are on my running iPod: “Kittens” and “Rez.” “Kittens” starts with a rollicking thump and a pounding rhythm. It pulls you in. At two minutes there is a dark undertone, with voices flitting in the mix. The rhythm breaks into percussion that builds up, a deep tone cries out, the percussion continues and then. . . silence. And then it keeps going relentlessly and (I have goosebumps right now as I type and listen) through the dark some synth pattern begins to play. And then the percussion drops away and it is just synth.
This is the part where I imagine what it would be like to have been there, at age 25. Would these sounds, accompanied by what they were, have brought me almost to tears like they do now? Would they have given me goosebumps? I wonder how I would have reacted to the version of “Rez” that closes the show? In “Kittens,” the glimmering synths arrive from the dark. In “Rez” they start the song on top of a peak and build everything else around those initial high sounds. I could sit here and try to describe the way it sounds, or the way that it makes me feel, but I would not be anywhere close to doing it justice. Just know this: To me, the song feels like a cool breeze on a hot day, and it fills me with the feeling that there is nothing, nothing on this earth, that has the power to transcend time or space or the physical the way music does. Not film, not books, nothing can capture that instant where your body changes from hearing music. Nothing.
Mike Vincent is a teacher, dreamer, grouch, and runner. He lives in northern Michigan and his favorite Beatle is George Harrison.