Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Crescent Ballroom, 10/4/11
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, What Laura Says, and St. Ranger
Jason P. Woodbury
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
It's official: Crescent Ballroom is open, and people are excited about it. Last night was...well, really, kind of perfect. The rain mostly cleared, leaving a strange...what's the word? Non-heat? Less hot? Oh yeah-- coolness --in the air, exploited to massive effect by the opening of Crescent's garage-style doors.
Some people were there to see openers What Laura Says (with rumors flying around the lounge that last night would be their final local show for the foreseeable future), some were there to check out the Portland-via-New Zealand trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and more than a few were hanging out simply because Crescent's buzz drew them in.
People off all three stripes were rewarded. Local openers St. Ranger and What Laura Says both had the love of the hometown crowd, and both had solid sets.
I was excited to see UMO. The band's self-titled disc has turned out to be one of my favorite of the year, a funky, distorted pop record that sounds they way I thought that Broken Bells joint should have. Dario Miranda over at Silverplatter.info described the band as playing "Taxman" by The Beatles for an entire album, which is pretty apt description. The power trio presentation left lots of room for singer/guitarist Ruban Neilson to get psychedelic, soloing and tapping effects pedals and wrangling his high-slung guitar with manic energy.
The band's album is a dense, mysterious thing, with every sound disguised under layers of fuzz and low-fidelity grit. Not so live, with the clear sound-system at Crescent revealing that under all that fashionable scuzziness, the band is a classicist act, with nods to the funky stylings of Curtis Mayfield, the rhythmic heft of Led Zeppelin, and the skewed sensibility of Captain Beefheart.
In other words, a record collector band. But the crowd was hardly comprised of the "I've got an original pressing" crew (they were there, hiding on the bleachers or searching for tour-only singles at the merch table) -- people moved ass, people grooved, and people high-fived.
Best of all? The band played it brief -- with a 40-minute set that never lagged, just flowed the whole time. It's a lesson most bands could stand to learn -- leave them wanting more. I did. Looks like UMO better get started on a second album.
Set list (incomplete?):
"Strangers are Strange"
"Jello and Juggernauts"
"How Can U Luv Me"
Last Night: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, St. Ranger, and What Laura Says at Crescent Ballroom
Better Than: Sitting in downtown traffic.
The Crowd: Downtown scenesters
Recommended If You Like: Krautrock and psych-dance that appeals to people who don't like heady music.
Random Notebook Dump: "Pixie manic guitar hero."