This Unknown Mortal Orchestra article was written by Alexander Smail, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse
“Life just keeps on going…” frontman Ruban Nielson muses midway through his set, before backtracking, “…did I get too deep?” There is a striking disparity between the chilled meditation of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s early material and the energetic funk of their latest album, ‘Multi-Love,’ and the band seem caught between the two in a night of relaxed sentiments and volatile psychedelia.
Opening with ‘Like Acid Rain’, the Portland-formed quartet instantly catch the crowd in a groove that doesn’t let up. Drenching the audience in bright colours and kaleidoscopic instrumentals; the night is young. Like with much of the setlist, there is an unmistakable energy to the performance that is unmatched on the album – even the more mellow cuts are imbued with it. As the set progresses, it becomes clear that Unknown Mortal Orchestra are a whole different experience live.
Sporting a simple black tee and five-panel cap, Nielson’s stage presence is low-key, yet unpredictable: one moment chilling silently on the floor, the next clambering up onto the speakers. He has come a long way from his meek early performances, not only in charisma but vocal delivery. Although occasionally drowned out by the instrumentation, his sultry voice is remarkably emphatic. He checks in with the crowd every so often, but is still clearly most comfortable letting the music speak for itself – there’s a visible zeal when he strikes his guitar.
Even older material is reinvigorated with the band’s newfound groove. Longtime fan-favourite ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ is no longer soulful R&B, but a rousing showstopper – the crowd are understandably taken aback, but readily give in to the volatility of the night. The jarring shift works, but only further highlights that Unknown Mortal Orchestra are not the same band they were two years ago. Segueing into other vintage cut ‘Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark’) with an extended solo, a surprisingly large share of the set is dedicated to old material for a band who have evolved so much in such a short time.
There are fleeting moments where the relaxed soul of the band’s salad days shines through. As the riff to ‘The World Is Crowded’ materialises, the venue is plunged into an intoxicating inertia, previously dormant. It’s a radical shift, and the crowd are just as confused as the band – the distinction between the fans who came to party, and those to unwind, swiftly becomes clear. Between those losing their shit to the groove, and others gently taking in the message, everything about the night is of two halves.
Appearing back onstage for an encore, the band close the set with ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’, sounding at their most electrifying and assured. Uniting the disparate audience, and evoking the biggest reaction of the night, the walls of Queen Margaret Union drip with funk by the time they exit the stage. Unknown Mortal Orchestra may be caught between two identities, but they somehow bring them together for a night where psychedelia and serenity are one and the same.