New Zealand psychedelic band Unknown Mortal Orchestra brought its densely layered indie rock to the Plaza Live in Orlando on June 13th. Backed by a three-piece band, Ruban Nielson laid down intricate guitar compositions heavy on effects, his brother Kody Nielson buttressing the songs with his frantic drumming.
Most of the set was subdued, with the band playing chill grooves that swelled and pulsed while Ruban Nielson sang in his distinctive glottal tenor. Finger-picking extended chords while tap dancing on the pedalboard to add various effects, Nielson gave the crowd a glimpse into his mad-scientist creativity. On many songs, Nielson played licks that harmonized with his vocals, as on the infectious “FFunny Ffrends.”
Mid-tempo relaxing grooves made up the bulk of the set, but Unknown Mortal Orchestra broke from that pattern a few times. The slow ballad “So Good at Being in Trouble” was a highlight, Nielson wrenching heart-breaking soul from his vocals, backed by the sparsest music of the night. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the fiery rendition of “American Guilt,” the band’s heaviest song, showed that they can rock out as well, Nielson tearing through heavy riffs while Jacob Portrait provided thumping bass.
With UMO known as much for its experimental soundscapes as for its lyrics, an emphasis was placed on those sonic textures. There were long jam segments where Nielson would improvise effect-laden licks. Indeed, his eclectic guitar licks were the best feature of the performances.
In terms of stage presence, Unknown Mortal Orchestra mostly ignored the crowd and played as if to an empty room. There was no posing or theatrics, little banter between songs, and Nielson would at times even take a seat in a chair. At a few moments, though, the band broke through the stoicism. At one point, Nielson jumped into the photo pit and sang the song while reaching into the first few rows of fans. At another point, he left the stage and walked through the crowd while playing guitar. Those moments brought a kick of extra energy to the performance.
After finishing the regular set, the band left the stage and bombarded the crowd with an endless loop of pulsing feedback. UMO then returned to the stage for an encore, beginning with a funky performance of the disco-influenced “Hunnybee” that turned portions of the Plaza into a dance floor. After breaking out one of the band’s best dance grooves, Unknown Mortal Orchestra then left the audience with another rocker, a version of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” that traded in some of the song’s funkiness for an added rock bite.