The first words the sold-out Sinclair crowd heard: “We got some disco music.”
Klaus Johann Grobe, a three-piece from Switzerland, kicked the evening off with minimal grooves that subtly recalled a stripped-down Metronomy. Their simple repetitive beats, however, failed to fully entice the audience, as the crowd wandered around the bars occasionally tapping their feet and nodding their heads. The anticipation for Unknown Mortal Orchestra was palpable.
After a regal entrance complete with recorded trumpet fanfares, UMO launched into 2014’s “From the Sun,” the opening track from their record, II. Immediately departing from the recording, UMO pushed the track’s tempo and clarified its usually distorted vocals. With this track alone, frontman Ruban Nielson made it clear: UMO is no longer the lo-fi garage rock band of 2010. Illuminated by oversized lighting fixtures, the band entered into a set marked by improvisation, riffs, and solos that pushed the boundaries of 2015’s acclaimed Multi Love.
UMO riffed on ideas and melodies throughout, allowing older songs to breathe. Moving through the set, UMO freed its music from the distorted and retro recordings to showcase the energy of Nielson’s prolific drummer, Amber Baker, and keyboardist, Quincy McCrary. McCrary is a recent addition to the touring line-up (previously just guitar and bass) as Multi Love prominently features keyboard work throughout.
During “How Can You Luv Me,” Nielson teased the audience with an ending, before creating a reverb-filled sonic atmosphere for his drummer. With McCrary steady on the keys, Baker filled the Sinclair with a pounding solo that left the audience in a state of awe. These moments make UMO’s live tracks vivid; freed from the pallid kick drums that mark their first self-titled album. Baker’s drum fills inspired physical bows throughout the audience, pulling the crowd’s attention away from Nielson throughout the evening. He initially captured the audience with “The World is Crowded,” but yielded to the spectacular keyboard solo that translated an outro into a song of its own. UMO’s impeccable flow owed itself to these extended outros and moments of improvisation, even as Nielson’s reverberating, distorted guitar lacked the same punch his band provided.
“Ffunny Ffrends,” a lo-fi track with grainy vocals and flat kick drums that launched UMO into the indie world, was completely reconstructed live and rooted only in its simple six-chord loop. The track’s flat and repetitive intro evolved into a piano-driven dance track that propelled the crowd almost straight into the encore. The band’s second entrance lacked the excitement and grandeur of the first, but the crowd didn’t care.
By the time Nielson struck and punctuated the chords in “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” the Sinclair seemed to entirely forget the band’s origins, dancing to the most upbeat song of the night. UMO traversed its three distinct albums with aplomb and while Nielson stands at the helm, UMO is at its best exploring the territories around its tracks with additional musicians added to the mix.
As the Sinclair streamed out, I overheard two individuals behind me: “wow, you really are always on conference calls.” At least they acknowledged it.
- Setlist Construction
- Nielson's vocal distorion
- Guitar solos eclipsed by band