Going into the sold out Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO) show Friday night, I was curious to see how Ruban Nielson’s lo-fi recordings would translate to a live performance. Turns out both listening experiences are different yet amazing.
“A lot of musicians make mistakes when they’re too drunk. I think we’re too sober,” said frontman Ruban Nielson sheepishly to the crowd as UMO wrapped up their opening number. The crowd didn’t seem to care about the band’s alcohol intake level as the group was both on point and seemed to lose themselves in the music–in a good way.
When the band launched into the fan favorite, “How Can U Luv Me,” the crowd went ham. Nielson is known for his extraordinary guitar playing and he put together a band of the same musical caliber. His drummer ripped through a drum solo towards the end of number that had the audience dumbfounded. UMO’s keyboardist was also impressive. A lot of the keyboard work on UMO songs are complicated but he handled them with ease. He even treated us to a jazzy number in between songs.
The overall vibe in the venue was so positive and happy. One of the most beautiful moments during the set was when the crowd sang along to “So Good at Being in Trouble.” Nielson stopped singing the chorus, allowing the audience to carry on the song.
The recorded songs on their 2015 release, Multi-Love, are powerful but even more so live. “Mult-Love” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”‘s lo-fi production is impressive but hearing them live is even more magical–they sounded bigger and brighter.
Nielson is a mellow individual but a great performer. His performance isn’t flashy but you can tell he is focused on the words and notes he’s expressing. There were a couple pleasant surprises–UMO’s tour manager, Tommy, came onstage for a rendition of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” (“Ruben really wanted to play the guitar part,” Tommy told me after). Another unexpected moment was when the low key Nielson pulled off a spin and drop to the floor a la Michael Jackson.
This epic show proved that Multi-Love sounds both extraordinary on the record and on stage. But don’t take my word for it. See UMO yourself! Next California date will be FYF Fest in Los Angeles. See other tour dates on their website.