London Charing Cross Astoria

It's a mega, mega ten-year thing.

It’s a mega, mega ten-year thing. The seed that germinated as an early-’90s club, grew a fanzine, a label – JBO – and a trance steamroller known as [a]Underworld[/a] is celebrating ten years and the crowd is hungry for posh rave thrills. It’s commendably perverse then, that before they can lose it to the heavy metal [a]Kraftwerk[/a]-ing of the post-Darren Emerson Underworld, they have to contend with a tall, bullet-belted woman impersonating a Swedish VJ.

Gramme are a perplexing beast. Skulking men churning out broody, skeletal grooves, they exude an ’80s art-funkiness at odds with singer Sam Lynham‘s rock-lady yelping. Is Catatonia gone Talking Heads the way forward? The [a]Underworld[/a] army just fold their arms and wait for the full eight ball.

‘War On Plastic Plants’, reads the back projection as the Fries amble forth. Clearly a theatre of space-rock absurdity is on the cards. They have lampshades, spider plants and a wicker chair. They have stray men with ancient percussion instruments and a seriously deadpan singer, Dave Brothwell.

Miraculously, however, their studied mad-cool doesn’t impede the delivery of a bunch of majestic new tunes. The Fries have been in the studio with Mercury Rev producer Dave Fridmann and that could explain the stature of their new adventures in psychedelic blues.

‘Brain Ticket’ and ‘Afrika Take Me Back’ lurch to awesome wah-wah scaped effect. Oldies ‘King Kong’ and ‘Dust It’ achieve heights of Sun-Ra-meets-the-Mondays excellence. The eight-mates-jamming-in-a-garage phase is over and, as if to celebrate, reserve singer Rich Little ends the set with a birdcage on his head. Top.

With midnight approaching, the [a]Underworld[/a] aficionados receive the twosome like soccer heroes. Fractal throbs are drowned in the cheering and hardly anyone bothers to shout, “Where’s Darren?” The first show without Emerson was clearly viewed with trepidation. “You think we’ve got it down up here but we are shitting ourselves right royally,” announces Karl Hyde after the opening ‘Cowgirl’. The disappearance of Darren appears, however, to make zero difference, at least on tonight’s overloading, mind-blowing form. They have layers within their sub-layers, piling two hours of beat on texture on subliminal wordplay. It’s a balancing act of the avant garde, with bangin’ tunes which neither Daft Punk nor the Chemicals could equal. They charge through ‘King Of Snake’ then stretch the genres with a deep and beautiful ballad like ‘Dirty Epic’. The “lager, lager, shouting” pop moment of ‘Born Slippy’ is rolled out ungrudgingly, and then when they appear to have peaked, they drop encores of ‘Rez’ and ‘Moaner’ which achieve indecent levels of gobsmacking intensity.

Hyde bows to the crowd, grinning from headphone to headphone. Divorce suits them. The show will bang on, chewing up genres as it goes. One day they’ll make a record with AC/DC and God will throw a party to celebrate. It’ll only be slightly better than this one.