Lots of noise has surrounded Unknown Mortal Orchestra since the announcement of this tour.
It’s only served to extend the fanfare that’s been in ascent since 2010 – with the band blossoming from a word-of-mouth Soundcloud success to the much end-of-year-listed and Radio 6’ed II. Now they’re back with their much-feted new LP, Multi-Love. Since they played this venue almost exactly two years ago, it certainly appears that UMO have seeped into the wider public consciousness.
Consequently, this shit sold out ages ago. The band takes their sweet time to emerge and an impatient, clammy gridlock of bodies forms under the low ceiling. Those who retreat to achieve or relieve a beverage are destined to watch on tiptoes at the back. UMO eventually turn up, tune up, tap stuff and start with Necessary Evil, a deep cut from the new album. From The Sun and How Can You Luv Me follow and provide a neat cross section of their three LPs, setting the standard for a set that draws generously from each.
Sans dusty basement production values, UMO’s songs take a different form from the off. Yes, the new stuff is notably funkier on record, but live it’s like, sequined jacket funky. Ur Life One Night doesn’t even try to avoid copying Prince and The World Is Crowded has, dare we say, a faint whiff of Hall & Oates about it. Older tunes too sound slinkier with the addition of live keys and synths that nestle within the rhythm section’s grooves. Frontman Ruban Nielson’s guitar buzzes and twangs via a dense-looking mess of gadgets on his pedalboard. In contrast to their playing, they are visually de-funked, more closely resembling four blokes picked at random from the queue. They play like they’re jamming and remain insular throughout.
The audience reserves its enthusiasm for the singles, and these markedly punctuate the flat-footedness during the jamming and noodling that characterises UMO’s ‘psychedelic’ side. Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark) and Ffunny Ffrends sound great and are lapped up. So Good At Being In Trouble earns probably the warmest reaction of the evening. The new album’s title track is arguably their most ‘now’ song and finally gets what appears to be a small pocket of chartered surveyors strutting their stuff. It’s easy to picture sunburnt lads with pompadours in vests and wayfarers doing pointy-finger dancing to it during the blur of summer festivals.
After an encore, they finish with Can’t Keep Checking My Phone and bow out, ending what is – despite what their current hype may suggest – a good gig by a good band. It will be interesting to see where their trajectory heads next.