Bundled up in the middle of the desert, fans packed the intimate patio at Pappy and Harriet’s this past Saturday night. Psych rockers Unknown Mortal Orchestra wrapped up their quick two-and-a-half-week US tour with us lucky few who sold the show out.
First off, let’s start with the set design. Who is their interior decorator, and can I have their number? They set the scene with a stage size white furry rug. Are you listening? Cool. They had one single bikini style plastic chair in the center, alongside a coffee table. Upon the table was a simple record player spinning none other than Bowie’s 1976 Station To Station album. Jamming to “Golden Years” before a UMO set is how it’s done, period.
The stars were bright and the band came to the stage. Frontman Ruban Nielson picked up his blood red Fender Jag-Stang and went right into the set with the opening track of their debut self-titled record, “Ffunny Friends”. The crowd happily sang along, some in a state of hysteria. UMO are touring in support of their admirably deranged-sounding fourth record, simply titled Sex & Food. Released with Jagjaguwar records in early April, the album crushes the game.
Nielson and his brother Kody, who now drums for the band, began the writing process in early 2016. In interviews, Ruban talks about the influence of the album being post-punk models from his youth versus today. He describes the post-punk music of today as not having the sense of a guilty pleasure to it. Ultimately he wanted to take a step back and act as a fan of his own, hoping to mix in the band’s old while still becoming new. Saturday night was a showcase of sorts.
Whilst performing classic UMO hits like “Swim & Sleep (Like A Shark)” and “Necessary Evil”, we got to enjoy the newest songs live as well. During the washed-out sounding jam, “Not In Love, We’re Just High,” Ruban hopped down from the stage and went wireless into the crowd. Singing along with the fans only added to how special the night was turning into. Once back to the stage, Nielson and the band ended the set (pre-encore) with the well-known banger “Multi-Love” off their third record. The show was so absurdly good – it’s one of those moments you just wish you could relive.
Regardless of previously mentioning their already formed appreciation for California in particular, where they play the most shows, the band answered the crowd’s heavy cheering with a fierce encore. We were blessed with the beautifully raw vocal stylings of Ruban during Sex & Food’s “If You’re Going to Break Yourself” which coincidently enough is the ending song on the new record. However, the band ultimately ended with the new record’s dance track “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays”. Well done, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I speak for all who attended by saying it was the best show of the year.
UMO was set to play FYF Fest 2018 before the unexpected cancellation of the LA festival staple, but fear not — they’ve added a SoCal date to fill the gap. They’ll play the Observatory in Santa Ana on Saturday, July 21 with support act Neil Frances. Tickets go on sale Friday, May 18 at 10 AM Pacific Time.
Words and photos by Danielle Gornbein