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Live Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Market Hotel, 7/31/16

UMO's muscular stage show injects its lo-fi psych-funk with a doubleshot of adrenaline

unknown mortal orchestra live review

Photo by Xanic Lopez (taken at UMO's 7/18 show)

On Sunday night, Unknown Mortal Orchestra performed an intimate last-minute show at Bushwick’s Market Hotel. After an hourlong delay, UMO took the stage in front of a packed and impatient crowd. The band more than made up for its delayed performance with a blistering, muscular stage show that injected its lo-fi psych-funk with a doubleshot of adrenaline. UMO tread in a brand of postmodern psychedelic blues rock that should be familiar to fans of Tame Impala or the White Stripes – but frontman Ruban Nielson sets himself apart with his slightly off-kilter brand of soulful eccentricity. After the first few songs, Nielson gleefully addressed the crowd, asking, “Are you guys okay? I think I’m drunker than you are.”

Nielson spent the set wailing into the mic and throttling his guitar as if he were wrestling an anaconda. He and the band were tight and loose as they vamped, traded solos, and laughed together throughout. Drummer Amber Baker wore an infectious perma-grin as she mercilessly stomped through each song and ripped through a drum solo of mind-boggling inventiveness. The Market Hotel provided an intimate setting and a dramatic Brooklyn backdrop: throughout UMO’s set, the elevated J/M/Z train could be seen passing by in the windows behind Ms. Baker.

Towards the end of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s set, Nielson took his microphone on a trek through the audience. The crowd parted for the Portland multi-instrumentalist, whose face was illuminated by the glow of fans’ camera phones. It was symbolic of UMO’s fusion of old and new: it’s a band of superior blues musicians – but one with a uniquely modern style and audience.

RATING: On my spectrum of insane July shows, UMO ranked somewhere between the disappointing Radiohead show at Madison Square (which suffered from the wrong venue – it was the equivalent of holding an intimate seance in a cavernous sports arena) and Guns N’ Roses’ explosive, once-in-a-lifetime spectacle at Metlife Stadium. I give this show nine out of ten Keanus.

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