REVIEW: Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Bodega, Friday, January 4
Ruban Nielson is bringing the guitar back to pop music.
The ex-Mint Chick was on fire with his Portland-based band Unknown Mortal Orchestra; the band now not so new actually, this being its second New Zealand tour after a debut Wellington show in late 2011.
Where last time Nielson seemed hesitant, he is now very much out front as the leader of the three-piece psychedelic-rock/power-pop trio.
His guitar sounds couched in effects so as to almost belie - damn near belittling - the shred instinct, Nielson was also far more confident at the microphone. But it was a lost cause, given the crippling sound at Bodega.
There were new songs from the band's upcoming second album.
I'm convinced it will be on many end-of-year lists as among the best albums of 2013 - but you wouldn't know it from the live versions. There is more of a pure pop sound, the songs more conventional in structure but lost in the fug of sound - a marshmallow of a venue, one with visual barriers to assist complaints from those who might have been concerned that it was only possible to be unhappy at the audio issues.
Still, Unknown Mortal Orchestra battled on. A cover of Pink Floyd's Lucifer Sam, previously an encore highlight, arrived mid-set to delight.
Nielson scribbled at his guitar, deftly keeping a rhythm line with his thumb while his fingers flicked and teased, the sound never allowed to burn into place as it might without the effects and treatments; instead it was a strange wash of phased, delayed distractions, a cartoon voice hiding inside.
UMO deserved a better sound mix.
The songs fell into mud and were forced to swim through it: a great shame, as it is clear this could be a dynamic, exciting, enticing live act.
On the night every song was forced to fight a battle it could never win.
Ultimately they ended up sounding the same too, stripped of the magic their studio counterparts suggest.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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