“You’re here early”, a mate says to me outside the Biltmore Cabaret. “Yeah,” I say, lookin’ at another dude with frizzy hair, b-ball cap and jean jacket standing opposite, smoking. “I’m here to see his band. You’re in Unknown Mortal Orchestra, right?”
Dudeman with frizzy hair, b-ball cap and jean jacket smiles. He’s Jake Portrait and he’s the band’s bassist. “Yeah!” he says, and I know he’s impressed ‘cos who the fuck has heard of UMO in these parts? Who’d even recognize one of ’em? (Achievement unlocked: an H+ to my Hipster Score on Klout). Anyway, UMO play proggy/psychy/surfy/Animal Collective-y/70s rock, with vocals by Kiwi Ruban Nielson fed through a snazzy effects mic, guitar going bonkers, Portrait on bass and Julien Ehrlich, a drummer who looks like he’s 17. The others have about four or so years on him.
AND THEY PLAY IN THE DARK.
Like, not low light. NO LIGHT. “It’s handy,” said Portrait after, “I was outside having a cigarette when the guy next to me complained about how we call ourselves an orchestra but we play in dark and how we’re shit. So it’s probably good they couldn’t tell who was in the band.”
Yeah. I guess. I, too, spent the first few minutes watching UMO and getting angry. How rude! I huffed and puffled to myself. Folks have left their homes, are standing up on a floor and are facing you and can’t see shit! Even when Shaun Ryder from the Happy Mondays, at the height of his screwduppery, played an entire gig with his back to the audience, THERE WERE STILL LIGHTS! *shakes fists*
But mid-set, deprived of being able to shoot any pics or watch them pedal-hop, I started to listen intently. And it was tight. Excellent. The fuzzy and distortion, the psychrock, the long outros, the vocals…all great stuff. And I realized: I’ve never seen a band play a full set in the total dark. It’s pretty ballsy, particularly for a young band. And they were even better live than on record, so…Score One for UMO. They get to be a new notch in my belt. In lieu of photos, have a listen to UMO’s debut album here.
UK’s Yuck didn’t fare much better in the illumination department, but the reds and blues were just enough for me to make out the fact that the faces of Daniel Blumberg, Max Bloom, Mariko Doi and Jonny Rogoff were still almost emotionless for a good part of the set. ‘Cos, like, that’s what Yuck do. While they’re busy sounding good.
Mariko looks properly narked off, constantly, Jonny’s marvellous afro moves while his face doesn’t, Max looks terribly shy, and Daniel? Usually takes him about 4 or 5 songs to really get in to it, and when he does, he becomes mesmerizing to watch…but in, he between stares off into space. Too cool for school? Or still getting their roadlegs? Probably the latter.
Still, there’s more banter than their last time in town. “Do you guys know Battles?” Max asked the crowd, apropo of the fact that Battles were playing elsewhere in town that same night. “Thank you for making us your choice tonight.”
“It wasn’t that fucking hard a choice,” I yell back. Daniel burst into a mile-wide smile and laughed. And it wasn’t – I dig Yuck’s stuff. It’s not the most inventive but it’s distortion guitar, solid bass, girl/guy vocals: American 90s indie rock with a British accent. And who doesn’t love a British accent? (Okay, the French don’t, but you get my gist.)
In fact, I seriously look forward to seeing them again, on the absurd Weezer Cruise in January….
…which is exactly what Daniel and I talk about after the show. We plot. We plan. We laugh. We arrange to meet at the buffet tables. We hug. Jonny makes the joke that a boat with Dinosaur Jr AND Sebadoh on it might actually sink from “too much rock”. “Yeah,” I say, excitedly…”AND Gene Ween‘s gonna be on it, too!”
“Who?” Daniel asks.
“Yunno, GENE from WEEN!” I say, even MOAR excitedly.
“Who’s WEEN? Oh, I think Jonny might know of them.”
*facepalm* Kids these days. Sheesh. \m/