Seeing Portland’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra live is nothing compared to listening to their funky indie pop songs on full blast at home – while the latter is impeccable and commands foot tapping and stumbling dance moves, the experience of seeing them live is like a good and hopeful amorous relationship that only grows stronger with time.
Starting the night with Like Acid Rain from their new album Multi-Love (Released on 25.05.2015 on Jagjaguwar), it is the kind of concert that is exhilarating – the sound is faster, louder and an explosive burst of psychedelia that sets the tone for the rest of the evening. The new album, which somehow finds a way into disco, explores the different meanings of love and polyamorous relationships on refreshing layers of upbeat tunes, fuzzy rock guitars and ethereal vocals.
As the classic tunes from their previous album were filled with their distinct boombox lo-fi sound, it is good to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra evolving and incorporating more funky, disco touches to their already irreproachable music. When they started performing one of their iconic songs, From the Sun, the crowd cheered and happily became one with frontman Ruban Nielson, clamouring their famous line ‘Isolation can put a gun to your head’ – their sweetest and catchiest tune.
While the other band members were brilliant (particularly Riley Geare on his drum solo introducing Ur Life One Night after the equally great How Can You Luv Me; and new band member Quincy McCrary’s piano solo after the timeless So Good At Being In Trouble – live, it was faster and possessed more edge), Nielson seemed to tire easily and did not deliver as much as he could have on So Good At Being In Trouble and Swim and Sleep, leaving it mostly to the audience and other band members. While raspy, out-of-breath, and woozy singing may at times enhance and bring an extra layer to a song, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s music is one that is enjoyed when polished at its best. Fortunately, Nielson makes a show out of being on stage; dancing, lying on the floor and sitting at the front of the stage, leaning towards the audience with vocal melodies embracing jerky undertones, before finishing off with a jazzy version of Ffuny Ffriends that got the entire crowd clapping along, and a cosmic rendition of Multi Love, greatly enhanced by Quincy at the keyboard. The encore song, Can’t Keep Checking My Phone, left the audience dancing along on a positive disco vibe, before everyone hurried to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s just announced after-gig show in Dalston.
The after-gig show, which started around 1AM, started with a surprising beat in the intimate and dark underground room at Birthdays, with crowds cheering louder than ever. Coupled with some upbeat mixes and spontaneous new drum nuances that made the music even more great in a head-banging, toe-tapping way, the entire band seemed to be even more energetic than at their concert, greatly encouraged by fans singing along to all their songs. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s performance of So Good At Being in Trouble was the definitive climax of the show, proving once again that they do indeed become better and better as the night goes along – and we can’t wait for more.
Photos by Suzanne Zhang