Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Brooklyn Steel on April 25, 2018 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Brooklyn Steel on April 25, 2018,

May 01, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The phrase “bisexual lighting” has been floating around a lot lately. A page devoted to it on Know Your Memebecause apparently, even lighting can be a meme nowdescribes it as “neon lighting with high emphasis on pinks, purples, and blues.” In the 45 minutes or so before Unknown Mortal Orchestrathe psychedelic soul, rock, and disco project of Portland-via-New-Zealand musician Ruban Nielsontook the stage for the first of its two nights headlining the massive venue Brooklyn Steel, a sensual shade of hot pink bisexual lighting glossed over shelves of succulents and a pair of PVC-coated, perfectly rectangular speakers that felt oddly out of place. The color recalled the artwork for the band’s 2015 album Multi-Love, a picture of Nielson’s home studio drenched in a singular pink light emanating from the ceiling.

This color choice proved telling, as even though Multi-Love’s follow-up, Sex & Food, is not even a month old yet, Multi-Love dominated the set. Well, not literally: Only three songs from the album, the soulful stunner “Necessary Evil,” the sitar-laced shuffler “Multi-Love,” and of course the eternal GOAT of all UMO affairs funk-leaning, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” appeared in the set, yet they were all the night’s absolute highlights. Their presence reinforced what makes Sex & Food distinct in the Unknown Mortal Orchestra oeuvre: Unlike its predecessors, its songs offer gradual rewards, scaling back on big-screen hooks and, save a few moments, volume.

It doesn’t feel coincidental that just under half the songs played from the new album appeared during the encore, which spanned an unusually long five songs versus the standard three. Nearby show-goers came to the consensus that “Hunnybee” was the most anticipated Sex & Food song of the night; with those lyrics written for Nielson’s four-year-old daughter and that tender, beautifully demo-like guitar line, how could it not be? It appeared second-to-last in the encore in a grittier form than on record, a style that made its debt to disco far more obvious. This same toughness defined the live renditions of less obviously rock-indebted numbers, such as the stuttering, cyborg-esque “Not In Love We’re Just High,” (“We’ve played that song like three times,” Nielson noted after it ended), the creeping, hazy “Ministry of Alienation,” and the intergalactic, funky “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays.” Interestingly, Sex & Food’s most frolicking, vicious tracks“Major League Chemicals,” “American Guilt”actually lacked this grit live, Nielson’s white-hot vocals often botched by imperfect mixing and guitars that, given their heft on the Multi-Love songs, could’ve been louder, fiercer.

Not that this distinction derailed the show. Nielson is incredibly charismatic on stage; wearing a gigantic, baggy black sweater over equally black Adidas tights and a skimpy, ultra short pair of dark grey, paper-thin shorts with a roaring tiger emblazoning the right thigh (and his usual hat with the brim tilted forward and up), he drew regular applause for his guitar work and occasional drifts into the audience. II highlight “From the Sun” appeared with an extended, shred-heavy outro; at no point during “Not in Love We’re Just High” could Nielson’s exact location in the room be pinpointed by an audience member not directly next to him.

Most thrilling were those moments all show-goers live for: when everyone in the room sings along, in this case the choruses to “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” and II hit “So Good At Being In Trouble,” as well as the entirety of “Multi-Love.” Nielson’s not exactly known for being an enunciative singerand sometimes, looking up the lyrics leads to, uh, eating crickets in the futurebut to hear roughly a thousand people chant “I can’t keep checking my phone!” in unison, especially in a space where throwing one’s phone up to grab a video is the norm, was freeing, to say the least. During this, the final song of the night, the lights shifted variously from purple to blue, the other two colors that comprise bisexual lighting. These hues provided an appropriately full-circle ending to a career-spanning night, one that, minor flaws and all, certainly posits Unknown Mortal Orchestra as a live band not to be missed.



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Nearby show-goers came to the consensus that “Hunnybee” was the most anticipated Sex & Food song of the night :)

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