UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA in Boston, MA and Vancouver, BC

It’s a rare gift to see one of your favourite bands in any city, let alone two in a week, in two cities in two countries.

Over the last seven years, I’ve given my loyalty over to a couple of weirdos from Portland. I’ve seen them in the pitch black on their first-ever tour in Vancouver (and every other time since), twice in Toronto, in Reykjavik and in their hometown.

UMO’s road legs have grown sinewy over the years, their confidence strengthening. Singer Ruban Nielson’s brother Kody Neilson (with whom Ruban was in Kiwi band Mint Chicks) now flanks on drums and vocals, and Thomas Hoganson handles keys and piano. Bassist Jake Portrait remains unflappable, guarding the groove on bass, while Ruban’s fancy fretwork and introspective pedal hopping is now balanced by fancy footwork (spliiiiiiits FTW!) and charmingly authentic banter (like, in Boston, when technical difficulties with Kody’s drum head meant he had to fill in the space with an audience Q&A – I mean, where DID he get his satin boxing shorts from?). Yeah, UMO, they’re pretty great now.

At both shows, the bulk of new album “Sex & Food” sounded sweet – gritty “Major League Chemicals” and “American Guilt” (tossed into sets along with oldie “Nerve Damage!”) play like cats among the pigeons of the sunshiney and distorted soul of “Chronos Feasts on His Children” “Hunnybee” (about Ruban’s daughter Iris) and “Ministry of Alienation.” *shrugs* It’s weird but it works. And since they’re still mixing in stuff from debut album I, along with the college kid faves of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” and “Multi-Love”, UMO can pretty much do no wrong.

Sure, the folks who’ve attached themselves UMO’s “hits” still haven’t quiiiiite wrapped their heads around the latest stuff (bar “American Guilt”) but a UMO fan, by nature of her fandom to this delightfully skew-iff band, is an open and accepting one. From this album, “We’re Not In Love, We’re Just High” got everyone bouncing in Boston (less so in Vancouver, but that crowd seemed more into the new stuff). And when Ruban descended into the crowd and then took off to play from the back balconies? Yunno, it was pretty great.

In all, we’re seeing a band that continues to connect, despite their oddities, and I’m grateful and proud to help them fly that freak flag.\m/




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