The Aussie tradition of shortening any proper name to Johnno, Davo, Smithy, etc has long been applied to our favourite Australian bands. Mentals, Oils, Crowdies, Hooks, Rads, Hunnas are all part of the vernacular. Spare a kind thought then for the excellent and much loved Underground Lovers, who have become unfortunately known as The Undies, albeit affectionately.
Since 1992 The Underground Lovers have been a unique blend of guitars, technology, great songs and dance beats. When trying to explain them to a ‘youth’ recently, the best description I could muster was that they were sort of an Australian New Order. But only sort of. They always combined those elements in a special way, that was absolutely their own. The description was sadly wasted on the ‘youth’ who said they’d Spotify both band to see what I was talking about. Or perhaps I should have sent them in the direction of Electronic, the supergroup made up of members of New Order, Pet Shop Boys and The Smiths, oh well I am sure Spotify will give ‘youth’ that advice too. Died Pretty in a blender with Happy Mondays? Damn it they just sound like them!
It’s been quite a while since I have seen The Undies. I can’t put my finger on exactly when. I know for certain that last time there wasn’t a full size hot tub pool in the front of the middle of the stage. They were playing in the Fortuna, which is home for the splashy sensation Blanc De Blanc, who use this large immovable water tank as a centrepiece of their show. It is a nice Spiegeltent, the stage is high, and there is plenty of room for watching, dancing or sitting depending on your preferences or age group. Opening with Au Pair from the 2013, Weekend immediately the smiles are going on dials. We have missed you. Some may not have familiar with the more recent activity, the newer songs played tonight were all excellent and there were than a few inspired to update their UL catalogue. Feels So Good To Be Free (Cold Feeling 1999) is marvellous and is quickly followed with the first of a trio of songs from their latest Staring At You Staring At Me, which came out late last year. The Rerun is a combination of driving almost glitter beat drums, super catchy ‘bom bom ‘sing-a-long refrain and a lovely chorus. Phillipa takes lead vocal on St Kilda Regret and it’s magical. The song is wonderful and I had literally woken up in St Kilda that morning. Perhaps because original music gigs in the Garden seem very limited to a strict one hour format, those three were all the new songs we got tonight. They were devoured by the audience with great enthusiasm, even all in a row. It meant the rest of the set was all gold from the first few albums. Las Vegas and the iconic Losin’ It from Dream it Down (1994). Losin’ It is absolutely one of my favourite songs of all time. Like the best New Order songs, you can dance to it, wash the dishes to it, it is a great song for driving in your car at night by the beach. It is sad and summery. The line that goes ‘I’m gonna lose my records, and the will to know’ (and perhaps the string arrangement) has always reminded me of The Go-Betweens, which is certainly nothing to complain about.
They end up with three songs (and an encore) from their classic from Leaves Me Blind (1992). I Was Right is fantastic. Along with Losin’ It, Your Eyes was one of the most iconic songs of the early 90’s in ‘alternative’ circles in the country. It was around the time Triple J had gone national and Rage was on and suddenly young people’s musical horizons were being broadened in ways we hadn’t seen in Australia for many years. When Leaves came out their combination of emotional lyrics, great classic guitars married to modern beats really effected people. They wind up with Eastside Stories, but return for a staggering Promenade. There is not much in the way of lighting tonight, and they were missing the usual projections they have when playing live, but they vow to return sometime soon and “play in a pub”.
The Undies may not have had the massive success of some of their contemporaries, but what they did do was mark remarkable records that were enthusiastically embraced by people, who as tonight witnesses, still hold that embrace close to their hearts.
Review by Ian Bell
Au Pair (Weekend 2013)
Feels So Good To Be Free (Cold Feeling 1999)
Every Sign (Staring At You Staring At Me 2017)
The Re Run (Staring At You Staring At Me 2017)
St Kilda Regret (Staring At You Staring At Me 2017)
Las Vegas (Dream it Down 1994)
Losin’ It (Dream it Down 1994)
I Was Right (Leaves Me Blind 1992)
Your Eyes (Leaves Me Blind 1992)
Eastside Stories (Leaves Me Blind 1992)
Promenade (Leaves Me Blind 1992)