(Editor’s Note: This piece appears on The Bowery Presents The House List. Check it out here)
The guys in Unknown Mortal Orchestra aren’t a chatty bunch: They said more on Twitter before the show than during their set last night at Mercury Lounge. Save for a couple “thanks” and a promo for another show, it was all business. And for UMO, business is orienting dense psychedelic rock for an authentic live experience—recreating the highly effected sounds on their first and only album, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. It takes work, but they’ve intently dedicated themselves to the task.
Lead singer Ruban Nielson is at the center of the three-piece band. His demos spawned UMO. And, live, his noise making is noticeably the most captivating element. Although it was nearly impossible to parse his actual singing voice from swaths of feedback and echo, it was fun to get lost in the sound. The lyrics usually complemented the melody, so distinguishing the verses to “Ffunny Ffrends” wasn’t necessary to enjoy the song’s giddy feeling. It was also in the moments when things felt like they’d fall apart—the drums and bass slipping in and out of time signature on “Strangers Are Strange” and “Thought Ballune”—when the band seemed most comfortable.
For the most part, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s songs hit somewhere in between Beatles psychedelia and Hendrix rock. It is the music of a bygone era, but classic-rock revivalism is on the rise. As witnessed by the attendance of Joseph D’Agostino and Jonny Rogoff, the lead singer of Cymbals Eat Guitars and the drummer for Yuck, respectively. They, too, came to support the community: one that speaks quietly and carries loud guitars.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com