For the first day of revisiting the Underworld bootleg catalog, I started logically enough at the beginning, or, the first recorded shows I own.
10-13-1994 Sheffield University, UK:
Underworld as we know them (in their electronic mode) had been around for a couple of years, and had just released their stellar "Dubnobasswithmyheadman". Yes, that album includes some classic singles, such as "Cowgirl" and "Dirty Epic", and songs that would be live staples for years. But at this early stage, the band wasn't required to play the singles and they really hadn't had any megahits yet. In fact, from the recording, you get the feeling that they are playing to a small, rather indifferent crowd, made even more awkward by the announcer's hearty introductions, to which the band respond by launching quietly into a very lush track, "Thing in a Book"; the show ends with an impromptu encore of "Dark Train" to a surprised announcer who thought they'd gone off for good. The gig itself draws heavily on tracks from the "Dark and Long" EP - provisionally remixes, but actually there are some epic long tracks that bear little resemblance to the original - as well as a few early versions of tracks that would feature on 1996's "Second Toughest in the Infants".
The real joy of this recording is that it's almost continuously mixed and full of beat-driven improvs. I get the sense that the band (Karl Hyde on vocals/guitar, etc, Rick Smith and Darren Emerson behind the mixing desk) were still polishing their chops, doing what they wanted regardless of if the crowd was into it or knew any of the tracks...but the improvisation that has always characterized their shows is present even this early on.
Maybe it's a product of the time, that mixing was a bit more rough around the edges, or maybe it's hearing some of these tracks in embryonic form, but it makes for a memorable recording.
1994 - Tranway, Glasgow, Scotland:
This show was recorded by the BBC, and with that built-in radio audience, Underworld are all business. Unlike the above show's long improvs and transitions, here the tracks are pretty distinct, and they're played quite agressively - nothing soft or gentle in this set! Karl Hyde cuts and pasts lyrics from soon-to-be megahit "Born Slippy NUXX" over top the usually instrumental original version, as well as sticks "Spoonman" on top of the rarely played "Dogman Go Woof". This one was wonderfully remastered by the Underworld fan concert-sharing community (Ride the Sainted Rhythms).