Unknown Mortal Orchestra
w/ Lower Dens
Exit/In; Nashville, TN
February 13, 2016
Review by Julian Ciany.
Valentines Day can be tough for some of us. Luckily, there is always a treasure trove of live music from some of the most unique touring bands in Nashville to help forget about being single. Last weekend, the Exit/In hosted a sold out Pre-Valentines Day party with synth-rock band Lower Dens and psych-dance group Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The night was a perfect showcase of experimental sounds and grooves that shook away the February blues and had the entire venue radiating incredible energy.
Although we weren’t able to have a photographer at the show to document the performance’s incredible light show, we hope our review can give a honorable description of what it was like to be there.
When I walked into the club, Lower Dens had already started their set and the room was getting packed. The Baltimore band has been on the national radar since the release of their critcall-acclaimed sophomore LP, Nooptropics, in 2012. Fronted by Jana Hunter, the band played a set that was rich with washed-out qualities that resembled the shoegaze sounds of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive.
Songs like “To Die In L.A.” and “Lamb” showed a strong ’80s dream pop influence that pulled everyone into their spectacle of a live performance. Although Lower Dens’ sound is rooted in a very different part of the pop music spectrum than UMO, their fast upbeat tempos mixed with delay, chorus, and a lot of reverb made for an enthralling performance.
By the time Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage it was hard to even move within the crowd. The band used that energy to start their set off in full force, opening with “Like Acid Rain” from their most recent record, Multi-Love. The song choice was perfect with its intricate groove and an infectious hook. The group wasted no time, going right into an older cut called “From The Sun.” Frontman Ruban Nielson wooed the crowd with his catchy lines and absolutely smooth guitar playing. Some of the sounds being made onstage were unlike anything I had ever heard before. This could have been due to Nielson switching back and forth between electric guitar and an electric sitar – something I have only seen one other band, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, do.
The band continued to tear through a justified mix of their old and new material. Psych-pop songs like “Ur Life One Night” from Multi-Love showed that this band can produce a radio-friendly hit but still test the boundaries on what “pop music” really is. Not only does this group show immense talent when it comes to song structure, but the abilities each of them have on their respective instruments is amazing. I was blown away by drummer Julien Enrlich, who took a crazy solo halfway through the set, and showcased an incredible ear for syncopated riffs that propelled each song in the direction it needed to go. Improvisation was a necessity in this set as the group created a seamless flow throughout each song, pulling from influences like Steely Dan, and those weird Prince records that you were always too afraid to give a chance.
It was hard to pick a favorite moment from the show. Each song, no matter what point of the band’s three album career it came from, struck a chord with me and the rest of the crowd. It was a party, but it was also an incredible display of skilled musicians knowing exactly what to do. The dynamic flow of the setlist was impeccable. When they brought the mood down to play “So Good At Being In Trouble,” a smooth and toned-down ironic love song, the crowd followed as everyone reached for their significant other to dance. And just like that, UMO was able to pick it back up with “Swim and Sleep Like A Shark,” a powerful song with a driving beat and incredibly delicate melodic textures. The rest of the set continued on this momentum with “Stage Or Screen,” “Ffunny Ffriends,” and “Multi-Love” closing it out. Any cellphone videos taken at this point would show an ecstatic Nielson walking out into the crowd and propelling this extremely groovy party into unknown waters. When the band walked off stage it was already certain what they would come on and encore with, and they didn’t disappoint.
The unique and round stage lights they had behind them started to pulsate along with the bass line of “Necessary Evil,” a laid-back single from Multi-Love that features a straight-forward rhythm, eerie synthesizer lines, and a catchy horn line. Finally, to close out the entire night, UMO launched into “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” the most popular track from last years successful release. It was such a perfect way to close the book on a great night of live music.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra has honed in on a special style that not only challenges pop music standards, but appeals to the masses. Their live show transforms the original recordings into something fresh and invigorating, and I can’t wait to see them again.