[GIG REVIEW] Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 29th September 2015

It’s been a while since we last heard from the pure yet enigmatic four-piece Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Having now released their third and most decorated album ‘Multi-Love’, the band have expanded beyond the 60s spaced-out fuzzy rock sound of their previous work; this time, adding doses of funk and pop to their classic layered guitar and ethereal vocals. Many have prematurely labelled UMO as a band that can only exist in the studio, and that they are masters of production trickery, creating sounds that are almost impossible to reconstruct live.

Boo to these people.

Their recent tour of the UK has seen the band mature exponentially. By showing off their new material as well as peppering the set with euphoric album cuts, the band oozes confidence and brings all the “studio sorcery” and funk than any one person could handle. What we got at the sold out Brudenell Social Club was non-stop clean, unsullied fun – proof that psychedelic and gone-disco bands don’t have to take themselves too seriously.

Opener ‘Like Acid Rain’ is bolstered by lyrical reverb, with punters crying back the infectious la la la la as if it were the theme to their favourite Pink Floyd inspired children’s TV show. Lead Ruban Nielson shows that he has mastered the art of pulling in listeners with his twisting grooves and delicate fret work, before hitting them hard with a colossal hook. The newly installed PA at the venue perfectly balances UMO’s sound of booming synths, cymbal crunches, and deliberately lithe guitars. Dripping with innocent arrogance and gaining momentum, the band run through the first half of their set quickly and effectively, giving us euphoric singles like ‘Ur Life One Night’ as well as old ones which rarely see the light of day on stage in 2015 such as ‘Thought Ballune’.

The pace is slowed only by the new soulful number ‘The World Is Crowded’ and fan favourite ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ –  the cautious groove of the latter complimenting the harmonic chorus, proving that they are as danceable and heart-warming as ever. An audience-led hum of the closing tune disperses into a silence as the audience admires the quartet in all their technical ability during ‘Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)’.
However, the greatest power is through Nielson and his ability to keep the audience transfixed on his movements and fragility – we see him toe tapping whilst playing guitar, nonchalantly leaning up against the back wall under the famous Brudenell paint, sitting front of stage with legs dangling over the edge, as well as venturing out into the audience during ‘Stage Or Screen’. It’s an effortless charm that doesn’t instantly demand attention, but yet you still can’t keep your eyes off him as he loses himself in his own world of psychedelia. After wandering through the crowd with a cheesy grin (note: I’ve heard he went and got a pint during the London show), he finishes off the guitar-lacking segment of the set with an abrupt, unforeseen Jackson-esque swivel and drop. It’s unpredictable, shamelessly silly, and exudes the band’s intrinsic vulnerability – but in this lies the band’s greatest muscle and proof of honest integrity (something which is lost in today’s business).

The only thing predictable about the whole show is the responses to singles, ‘Multi-Love’ and ‘Ffunny Ffriends’. Both leaving punters itching to dance, jump, and clap their hands, stomp their feet, or do whatever they felt was necessary at the time. The title track of the new album, and set closer, is funkier than any UMO song has been before, pasting together a boisterous and unavoidable chorus.

At first, their re-appearance on stage is disappointing, as the deep synths of ‘Necessary Evil’ unable to follow suit of the previous closer. Despite the start of the encore lacking the classic UMO spark, it is swiftly redeemed of a shortcoming with latest single ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ – this being as close to a new-wave and pop song as you could ever apprehend from this group, with capturing vocals and a disco undertones.

To prove their increasing live identity, the set is littered with solos. Each member of the quartet is given multiple opportunities to emulate any individual rock-star fantasy - from Ruban Nielson on guitar, to Jake Portrait on bass, to Quincy McCrary on keys, and Riley Geare on drums. However, this never overflows into cockiness or to seem immodest, every member remains within their bubble of self-awareness and simply have a good laugh with each other.
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It is now completely understandable as to why Unknown Mortal Orchestra have progressed from a fad to a force. This is a band that are humbled by a sell-out, and a band who leave the stage as delighted as they were when taking it. A band that play the songs you know, as well as the ones you don’t – because they can.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra played:

Like Acid Rain
From The Sun
How Can You Luv Me
Ur Life One Night
Thought Ballune
The World Is Crowded (great)
So Good At Being In Trouble
Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)
Stage Or Screen
Ffunny Ffriends
- - - - - -
Necessary Evil
Can’t Keep Checking My Phone

Written by Richard Maver