Unknown Mortal Orchestra live in New York
- By Ryan W. Neal -
- Jun 18, 2012
For a band as heavily steeped in 1960s psychedelic pop as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the show at Brooklyn’s Glasslands Gallery was surprisingly sober. In plain clothes, the three members of the Portland-based indie rock group stood mostly motionless, keeping straight faces as they played their instruments. Stage effects were limited to red, green and blue lighting and a fog machine. They drank lots of water.
It was a far cry from front man Ruban Nielson’s previous group, The Mint Chicks, the successful New Zealand noise rock group known for its intense live performances. That shouldn’t read, “boring;” it should read, “a concentrated and flawless execution.”
UMO let its music do the talking. It wasn’t about the fashion, trippy effects or on-stage of antics of a drug-fueled psychedelic party. From the opening taps on Gregory Rogove’s drum kit to the final notes of ‘Ffunny Ffriends,’ these guys weren’t just working. They were earning a promotion.
Nielson revels in creating plucky and incredibly catchy guitar melodies that are then, perhaps literally, acid washed. His falsetto voice, meanwhile, was captured with lo-fi microphones and given a healthy dose of reverb to reproduce that raw, shoe-string budget sound their 2011 eponymous debut album was known for. Add in a throbbing bass line (played by Jake Portrait) and a breakbeat drum rhythm, and the result is something that draws from the whole history of pop music while managing a sound that is undeniably UMO’s own.
The second song, ‘Thought Ballune,’ could easily be a track on a lost Syd Barrett album (even though the guitar sounded very George Harrison-esque). Nielson’s vocals on the crowd-favorite, ‘How Can You Luv Me,’ had hints of Motown soul. His voice followed the notes coming from his guitar, creating a warm and cozy harmony through the thick layers of distortion.
Rogove’s complex syncopations were funky, yet stripped down like the beats on an old Wu-Tang Clan track. He played with intent and concentration, occasionally making a face like he smelled some vinegar when his hands wandered around the kit to spice up the rhythm. When this happened, UMO was at its best. While the band successfully captured the essence of the recorded album, it used the live setting to expand on the tracks, adding in some hard rocking jams with Nielson and Rogove playing off each other.
Playing noisy, chaotic, and fast with layers of sonic texture, UMO created an otherworldly sound with these jams – without the use of typical black light and bong-rip tricks – that matched the best acts in psychedelic music. And the crowd loved it. With only one album to its name, UMO drew a sold out audience to the Glasslands Gallery. A line of people stretched down Kent Street, hoping to score last minute tickets.
“Good and sweaty,” said Alex Enrique after the show. “Fun boys and really a psychedelic show… it’s a new jam culture.” After the sixth song in the set, the fans’ cheers and applause finally got Enrlich and Nielson to smile at each other. Even Portrait cracked a smirk. They were having fun. They were rocking this crowd and they knew it.
Glasslands gallery was a perfect setting. The place is small and intimate, and the ethereal stage backdrop of crumpled papers made UMO look like it was soaring through the clouds. Oh, and fans should know, they introduced one song with, “this is a new song.” So a new album could be on its way. See them soon, because you can bet that this band will be selling out much bigger venues in the very near future.
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