Saturday, February 20, 2016

Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Irving Plaza

Ruban Nielson
Ruban Nielson grew up in Auckland, New Zealand. Nielson’s mother is a singer, pianist, and hula champion from Oahu, Hawaii. His father, a New Zealander-born horn player, exposed his two sons to jazz. He helped Ruban gain entrance to New Zealand’s most prestigious art school, and he bought him his first guitar. In New Zealand, Nielson played guitar in the Mint Chicks, a punk band he founded with his brother in 2001. Upon relocating near Portland, Oregon, however, Ruban found work as an illustrator. In his free time, he began to record odd psych-rock. He pseudonymously posted his songs online in 2010 and they caught fire. He formed a live band with friends from Portland and hit the road. Unknown Mortal Orchestra , also known as UMO, presently consists of Nielson, keyboardist Quincy McCrary, bassist Jake Portrait, and drummer Riley Geare. Unknown Mortal Orchestra's third studio album, Multi-Love, was released on May 26, 2015.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra ended a winter tour with two sold-out shows at Irving Plaza. Although UMO's three albums seemed to be rooted in disparate directions, the live show harmonized these divergent paths. The band started the set with what sounded like a jazz jam on "Like Acid Rain," with spiraling guitar and keyboard leads even before the vocals began. The rest of the set seemed similarly experimental, with rhythm and blues lead vocals, pop harmonies, and extended instrumental jams. The overall sound was a realization of the indie of the first album, the psychedelia of the second and the pop grooves of the third album. More than half of the set was comprised of songs from the most recent album, a study of Neilson's recent polyamorous relationship, but live the center of gravity was on the jams, not the lyrics. Neilson seldom spoke to the audience and even less frequently looked at his fans below, consumed instead by his guitar leads and the band's propulsive rhythms. A trumpet player and saxophonist joined the core quartet for the encores of "Necessary Evil" and "Can’t Keep Checking My Phone," as if to bring the set full circle to the beginning jazz jam. While some tunes were more engaging than others, UMO's performance could be applauded for its adventurousness.

Visit UMO at