Underworld, Guildhall, Southampton

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The Independent Culture

It's one of the great ironies of the iPod age that its music has been of the decidedly lo-fi variety: the wilfully insipid sounds of the likes of Kate Nash lose nothing when their layers and subtleties have been compressed beyond recognition by the MP3 process.

But artists whose works occupy the full audio range don't do quite so well in the compression stakes. Underworld is one of these, a band whose soundscapes, driven by pulsating sub-bass, pounding beats, dissonant echo-drop noise and pastoral keyboard motifs, can be breathtaking.

The best way to enjoy the rollercoaster of highs, lows and jaw-dropping crescendos of Underworld's music has always been live. Here, working the mixing desks and laptops in freeform soundsystem expression, pushing ideas to the edge of collapse as they explore the outer edges of their own musical template, they are truly in their element.

This, the opening show of their UK tour to promote their fifth studio album Oblivion with Bells, is no exception. Over the course of two hours they deliver an intoxicating set that plays as much with power as it does with beauty.

On the brooding "Dark and Long" and the pulsating psychobabble epic "Cowgirl", stripped-to-the-bone rhythms and pulsing bass-lines are overlaid by subtly embroidered palettes of avant-garde noise. The similarly intense "Born Slippy .NUXX" has a "lager, lager, lager" chorus and an uplifting keyboard.

Despite the iconic status of this tune from the Trainspotting soundtrack, it is not the high point of the show. That accolade instead goes to two tracks: the new and gorgeous "Beautiful Burnout", which presents a stunning blend of Teutonic techno and dub soundsystem ambience, and "Two Months Off", a rushing fusion of techno-fied world beats and uplifting keyboard and vocal hooks.

During the latter the stage is taken over by giant inflatable light-sticks that move to the heat of the crowd and change colour according to the mood of the music. It's a trick that reminds us of the huge sense of irony that sits at the core of the Underworld ideology, driving vocalist Karl Hyde's infectious performance in which he moves from emaciated Mr Punch to hip-gyrating techno Elvis.

Touring to 19 October (www.underworldlive.com)

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