Live Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra XOYO, London

After a very recent tour in support of Foster the People, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s acid-drenched melodies delighted a young London crowd again last night with this one-off headlining UK show at XOYO.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

UMO entered the music world in an slightly unconventional manner. Kiwi, Ruban Nielson (from the now defunct band Minth Chicks) first released the song “Ffunny Ffrends” on Bandcamp, and within a few days the tune was on hundreds of music blogs.

After recruiting bassist Jake Portrait and teenager drummer Julien Ehrich, he made the courageous and clever move to keep his band anonymous and let the music speak for itself (which obviously drew them lots of attention). 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra make fantastic lo-fi-drenched psychedelia with a surreal, retro vibe, drawing from 60s garage bands, The Beatles and even Krautrock. Since last February the now Portland-based trio have been touring non stop to promote the eponymous debut album (released on Fat Possum US and True Panther / Matador in the UK last June).

Unknown Mortal Orchestra Live Review

Feauturing jangly, reverb-laden guitar, a minimal but danceable rhythm section and slightly distorted vocals, most of their songs have a simple, but effective formula based around a central melody reinforced by parallel lines.

The band came onstage with notable, almost endearing deliberateness, not even all together. Opening with a long instrumental intro that led into the oddly Flaming Lips-esque “Little Blu House“, they performed the debut album in almost all its entirety with the notable exclusion of “Bicycle” (alas).

Unfortunately after Nielson broke a string of his guitar during the psychedelic “Thought Ballune” everything seemed to go wrong:  lots of distorted fuzz, inaudible guitars, poorly mixed instruments…..Ehrich said “Not every show is like that”, meanwhile Nielson seemed very frustrated and kept apologising.  

Unknown Mortal Orchestra Live Review

To their credit they managed to win it back, and towards the end things got better sound-wise. Live the songs feel less effect-laden and Nielson (who weirdly holds his guitar just below his neck) is charming enough to entertain an audience.

Highlights were the sun-drenched “Strangers are Strange” and the heavy, surf-rock melodies of “Nerve Damage“. They finished with the funky “How Can you Luv me” before coming back for an unexpected (and personally much appreciated) cover of Can’s “Vitamin C”.
Little Blu House
Thought Ballune
Strangers are Strange
Nerve Damage
Jello and Juggernauts
Boy Witch
Ffunny Ffriends
How can you luv me

Vitamin C (Can’s cover)

All pics © copyright Eleonora Collini