Unknown Mortal Orchestra Not So Unknown Anymore At The Crocodile

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Foxygen

The Crocodile

Friday, March 22, 2012

Seeing a band that is undoubtedly hitting their creative stride is a really powerful thing. While you can't listen to Unknown Mortal Orchestra's two records and hear a band struggling with anything, their last spin through town was a bit lackluster. While the Portland trio had a small lineup change (drummer Julian Erhlich has been replaced with Riley Geare), that change (along with a year and a half of recording/touring/general band growth) has helped propel the band's live experience from hit-and-miss wallflowers to confident psychedelic shamans, capable of sudden dive-bomb instrumental passages that turn the bop-along pop compositions of their recordings into full on heady freakouts.

The only complaints that could be made about the band's sold-out set at The Crocodile stemmed from the seeming hesitance of frontman Ruban Nielson to really dig into his vocals and push them into more powerful territory. On record, Nielson's voice is bold and versatile, but live, he tends to be a bit more tentative (likely focusing on his intricate finger-picked guitar playing). While his vocals may have been reserved, Nielson's fingers were letting out unreal shrieks during the band's instrumental breaks. Maybe it was his wardrobe (a long flowing garb similar to an Islamic thobe), but watching Nielson's guitar outbursts felt like watching a faith healer lost in the moment, speaking in tongues, oblivious to their surroundings. Drummer Riley Geare locked into every single start/stop nuance of the band's jagged pop songs, joining forces with bassist Jake Portrait's nimble playing in a staggering display of chops that reinterpreted UMO's playful album material into powerful anthems. Pardon my dredging up tired-old rock clich?, but if you closed your eyes long enough (and maybe took a few deep breaths of the pot-infused air that filled the club), you wouldn't be that far off-base for imagining that Bonham, Entwistle and Hendrix were up on the Croc's stage together. For their encore, they let into a cover of Jay Reatard's "My Shadow" that, for all the straightforwardness of the original, showed off the band at their crushing, full-throttle best; melancholy, jittery, unreserved and completely unapologetic.

Openers Foxygen were akin to those days where the weather won't make up it's mind. At times, the band was sunny, bouncy, and full of the sort of infectious 60's-tinged energy that feels like the very best kind of sugar rush. However, any momentum the band seemed to get during their songs was killed between songs, as singers Sam France and Elizabeth Fey spent a good chunk of the second half of Foxygen's set arguing with each other about monitor mixes to the point of teeth-gritting uncomfortableness. After feeling the tension between the two boiling on stage, it was hard to feel the band's call to smile along to their layered pop. Foxygen is apparently known for these sorts of derailing outbursts; when the band can be known for harnessing that energy into focused but passionate shows (as well as translating their pristine records a bit less sloppily), they'll be a genuinely great band.

UMO Setlist:

The Opposite Of Afternoon

Thought Ballune

Bicycle

No Need For A Leader

How Can You Luv Me

Strangers Are Strange

Jello And Juggernauts

Monki

From The Sun

Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)

So Good At Being In Trouble

-ENCORE-

My Shadow (Jay Reatard cover)

Funny Friends

Boy Witch

 
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