Somewhere between A and B (or more likely B and C, because this is UMO’s third album outing), Unknown Mortal Orchestra have become popular. Like, really young girls in the front row who describe to you with glee that they heard “Multi-Love” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” during their shift at Starbucks and this was their OMG first time seeing them ever, sort of popular. But I don’t cut down tall poppies, UMO have worked hard for this and deserve as much.
On the other hand, the Get off My Lawn! grandma in me wants to keep UMO to myself.
I like to say “oh yeah, I saw them years ago their first time in Vancouver, when they played in the complete pitch dark” and have seen them in Vancouver, Portland, Toronto, Reykjavik, you know, all over, and wear it like a medal, because UMO are one of my favourite bands. They have consistently put out unique, future-forward music and put on truly rad live shows. And over the years, Ruban Neilson’s confidence on stage has grown…and now even includes fancy footwork that extends far beyond his nerdy pedal-pushing – these days he dances, spins and slides across the room with the same amount of soul that’s in the music itself. It’s been a true pleasure seeing UMO flourish.
So now we arrive at the arrival of the album Multi-Love. Press hoo-ha about the platter’s lyrical content and inspiration aside (it’s none of our business and let’s just all focus on how shimmery the album is), all of UMO’s planets are aligned.
Live, they start new with “Like Acid Rain”, heading into II’s “From the Sun”, into drummer Riley Geare’s Muppet Animal drum solo moment in “How Can You Luv Me” during which bassits Jacob Portrait takes his own seat to watch. “Ur Life One Night” is a psychedelic soul groove, and the crowd go doo-lally. “Ffunny Friends” has some killer piano courtesy of new keyboardist Quincy McCrary, who’s fleshing out the whole fam damily.
Truthfully, however, there’s something a bit out of whack tonight – Ruban’s voice is running on ragged in that sort of mid-tour kind of way. Happens. When I saw them in June in Toronto, they were on point, but tonight they’re hovering around it. The crowd don’t seem to mind – and maybe you’d only notice if this was, like, your 8th or 10th UMO gig and you’d seen them in Vancouver, Portland, Toronto and Reykjavik. *winky emoji.*
The falsetto on “So Good at Being In Trouble” wavers a little, but the trippy “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” redeems. And then…ahhhhh. “Multi-Love”, their multi-coloured pop hit hits and it’s Huzzahs! all around.
From pitch black to chromatic, it’s been a long, trippy and terrific road for the Unknown Mortal Orchestral, and they deserve every moment of popular. In fact, when three girls including Starbucks reach forward with their bottles, craning to clink glasses Neilson, he doesn’t let it slip. He raises his OJ and cheers with them. To health, UMO.
Oh! And while we’re talking about cheering, let me also tell you about Vinyl Williams, UMO’s opener on the tour.
Vinyl Williams is primarily the lead singer/guitarist and curly bonced Lionel Williams (see? clever!) backed by other skilled young hippies from LA. Quipping about Kepler and space travel, and dressed in 70s thrift, Lionel and his merry pranksters together looked exactly like every band I ever saw play in Grade 9 at some friend of a friend’s basement, underneath a blacklight. Only this band was good. Really good.
Williams’ fuzzed-out falsettos, and wobbly guitar, mulched in with Moog actually owes more of a debt to the best early years of British shoegaze and experimental psych-rock like Spacemen 3, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Telescopes, Levitation et al, than he probably even knows. Williams, it seems, is dead serious about complex layering and psych rock – they’ve got an album called Trance Zen Dental Spa fer chrissakes. But brand new offering “Into” shows some real promise and songs seem to take their own trips. Have a listen now, tune in, turn on, go out, see them.\m/
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