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Underworld does best to overcome techno difficulties

Does techno deserve this?

There was a lone woman blowing bubbles in a feeble attempt to look cute; someone twirling a cellphone as a glow stick substitute; a rave pit that, at times, looked more like a stand-and-sway-pit; and a chilly outdoor venue that sat more than half empty on Saturday night as 1990s electronic music royalty played songs from its forthcoming album. The answer, in case you couldn't guess, is no. Both techno and the veteran band Underworld deserved better than the ill-suited venue and small crowd that met them at their Boston show.

At one point in the not-so-distant past, rave culture grew about as welcome as a persistent rash. The scene turned into a caricature of itself as DJ's egos and salaries grew bigger than the music, and hideous wide-leg trousers somehow became a symbol of feel-good dancing. But Underworld's set on Saturday was wonderfully nostalgic, like a return visit from an old friend who disappeared after a nasty Red Bull and ecstasy addiction got the better of her. The duo's show served as a reminder that despite some of the minor annoyances of electronic music culture, there is a reason why this techno has not completely faded from view.

"I'm sorry about the lack of space tonight, everybody," offered a good-humored Karl Hyde, who spent most of the night singing and performing rave aerobics in a shimmering sequined jacket. During their finest moments, such as the new track "Crocodile" from the forthcoming album "Oblivion with Bells," Hyde and Rick Smith (along with technical assistant Darren Smith) painted with sound. Starting with a simple gurgling synthesizer, the duo furiously layered subtle melodies, textures, and beats until songs grew so top heavy that they had no choice but to crescendo, and then collapse onto themselves, all before the glorious build would start again.

Hyde, wonderfully sinister on classics such as "Mmm Skyscraper I Love You," managed the impossible. He was able to spark the small crowd into party mode despite the lack of chemical stimulants (you can't get far with $7 wine coolers) and a venue designed for fist-pumping instead of dancing.

Opening DJ John Digweed was not quite as successful. Playing techno at the too-early hour of 7:30, he was never able to engage the scattered crowd, and by the time he finally built momentum an hour later, the unforgiving lights came up, and the small clusters of dancers stopped and simply looked defeated.

Christopher Muther can be reached at

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With John Digweed

At: Bank of America Pavilion, Saturday