Words By Jose Lopez-Sanchez, Photos By Clarissa Villondo
For a group that generally shuns publicity (relative to other bands) and refers to themselves, in alternating fashion, as “just another band” and “The Best Band in The World™” – with tongue firmly in cheek – Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s performance put them in contention for the latter. As the audience sang along and danced enthusiastically for the duration of the ninety-minute set, it felt like everything that ever mattered was within that room.
UMO’s brand of psychedelic rock has evolved alongside guitarist/vocalist Ruban Nielson’s songwriting and technique. As Nielson’s raspy, stretched out falsetto cut through ever more clearly, mixing up his unorthodox guitar playing with some old-fashioned shredding, sweet in timbre and nasty in attitude, equal parts unusual chord selection and solos that take you on an astral projection.
While the band’s lo-fi charm has made them indie favorites, the studio versions of their songs pale in comparison to the rich, full sounds of their live show. They beautifully juxtaposed the more raucous moments with the quieter, more introspective passages of their songs. The rest of the band elevates every song into a transcendental jam through space and time, playing with concepts of melody, rhythm, and time. Even keyboardist Quincy Mcrary, the newest addition to the band, slots into their groove seamlessly, playing a beautiful piano coda at the end of “Multi-Love” reminiscent of Jim Gordon’s classic passage at the end of “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos.
A special mention must go to Baltimore natives Lower Dens, who played a powerful opening set to a house two-thirds full just slightly over a week after having their van stolen in San Antonio (they recovered it shortly after, minus a couple of laptops). Though they were down two members from the official line up, lead vocalist Jana Hunter and drummer Nate Nelson still howled and banged their way to a raucous performance. Hunter closed out the set with an incredibly intimate and personal solo vocal performance – three minutes of intense, moving vocals that hung over the room for many a moment after it was done.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra