Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Lincoln Hall

(Photo courtesy of Dusdin Condren)
(Photo courtesy of Dusdin Condren)

Sometimes less is more. Ruban Nielson, singer of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, is a man of few words on stage, letting the lyrics and the music speak for the four-piece band. Although he was quiet in terms of how much he spoke to the audience throughout their June 6 show at Lincoln Hall, he was still able to create a friendly, personable environment with the eager crowd.

Before Unknown Mortal Orchestra hopped on stage, J Fernandez sauntered in. Fernandez, who creates personal, experimental pop in his bedroom in Chicago, has a mysterious element, not baring everything he has to offer but demonstrating plenty of his talent nonetheless. His sound is sort of like a less polished, muted version of David Bowie, mixed with more guitar reverbs and slower tempos.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, which is originally from New Zealand and relocated to Portland, put on a powerful performance backed by multi colored, vibrant lighting, and small, glowing funnels that looked like small, bizarre space satellites. With a recent release “Multi-Love” (which came out May 26), people who were lucky enough to get a ticket for the sold out show were more than satisfied with Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s performance.

It seems like seeing them live and hearing them on record are two different mediums. Live, they seem to evolve into more a jam band than anything, pairing groovy, psychedelic riffs with high pitched, whispery, but strong R&B vocals from Nielson. At one point, Nielson set aside his guitar and sat on top of one of the large amps side stage with a huge, genuine smile, making the show seem more like someone’s intimate living room than Lincoln Hall. But on record, there’s more an indie pop- or punk-influenced element that’s more controlled. However, these two different sides of the band doesn’t detract from their live show, nor the quality of the their record. Instead, Nielson, Jacob Portrait, Riley Geare and Quincy McCrary seem to design their live show as a special type of creative outlet, letting pulsating colored lights, the R&B grooves, and a little bit more loosely controlled music turn Lincoln Hall into a low key dance party.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra (dubbed UMO by fans out of affection and because the name is a mouthful after a while), is one of the best live acts I’ve seen in a while. One of the highlights of the show was when the band started to play “Multi-Love”, one of the most popular tracks off of the new album. Nielson, who wrote a more personal, but slightly more confusing album this time around, illustrates how well-organized madness can be transferred onto the stage.