live review

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

July 18 2013
Re:Fuel, Dunedin

Reviewed by Eloise Callister-Baker
22nd July 2013

While there are many ways to describe the Dunedin student venue ReFuel, two words that seem most appropriate are "intimate" and "raw". The underground and physically narrow setting of ReFuel means that musicians are barely elevated or separated from their fans - a setup which often induces fanatic and personal performances.

On the night of Thursday 18 July, everything good and bad about ReFuel swirled together when Unknown Mortal Orchestra came to play. The night begun with Auckland trash-punk band Las Tetas playing a surprisingly toned-down set. The band performed with an alluring mix of shyness and intensity and invoked noticeable enthusiasm from the crowd with their songs, The French Song and Youíre Not Invited. Frontman for UMO, Ruban Nielson, later claimed that Las Tetas was his current favourite New Zealand band; with Las Tetasí interesting sound interlaced with broken-down rhythms and screaming vocals, Nielsonís infatuation is inevitable.

The crowd size swelled as the three members of UMO squeezed through to get to the stage. The appearance of Ruban Nielson induced yells and vigorous applause. But the excitement was entirely reciprocated, with Nielson reiterating throughout the night how great it was to be back performing in Dunedin (he had previously played shows here when he was in the Mint Chicks, but it was his first time in Dunedin performing with UMO).

Experiencing a UMO gig is nothing like listening to the mellowed out, psychedelic sound of their albums - II in particular. The sound is faster, louder and filled with moments where the band go off-path into uncharted jamming territories. It was wild. It was exhilarating. Covering a selection of songs from both albums in a fresh way, Nielson interlaced the bandís set with lengthy, intricate guitar solos during which he floated away - getting lost somewhere in all the distortion. At another point in the night, Nielson and UMO bassist Jacob Portrait lay down on the stage as drummer Riley Geara (whose entire image was reminiscent of a Grateful Dead band member), went crazy on a tangential drum solo.

Despite the escalating audience hype, there were numerous sound flaws which either created or enhanced UMOís unpolished vibes. Some audience members toyed with the settings on the bandís distortion and fuzz pedals, and overly enthusiastic dancing caused interference with the venueís PA system, creating unwanted feedback and crucial guitar notes to completely disappear amongst all the noise. In this case, however, the very roughness of the sound quality brought the experience onto another level. Sometimes imperfection does that.

After what I assumed was a roaring encore (at that point I couldnít distinguish my tinnitus from the applause around me), the band returned to the stage amped and ready to continue performing well into the night. In a surprising move, UMO strummed out some Can and Pink Floyd and also got into their own on-stage antics - which included pouring drinks for audience members from a previously hidden whiskey bottle.

Among UMOís final songs was 'Ffunny Ffrends' - the hit that caused the insider music world to obsessively seek out who or what UMO was. Although there are now faces to the name, UMO retained their enigmatic quality throughout the night leaving the audience mesmerised and joy-struck when the band finished. UMO has drifted to the bottom of the world and it's here where they are embraced with open arms. Down-under, UMO wonít have to eat their popcorn all alone 'cause boy if you didnít follow them before the gig, you wonít leave them alone after.

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