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Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ Union Transfer.

February 24, 2016

Unknown Mortal Orchestra-13Text by Shane O’Connor. Images by Teresa McCullough.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra played to a sold-out Union Transfer last week. Fans lined up around the block waiting to get into the Spring Garden Street venue, which was a big step up from Boot & Saddle, where the band played last time they were in Philly. With support from the indie dream pop band Lower Dens, Unknown Mortal Orchestra put on a fantastic show.

The venue was at about half capacity when Lower Dens took the stage. The Baltimore-based band was comprised of just a singer-guitarist and drummer. The duo played several songs that all seemed to mesh together a bit, creating a chill atmosphere that had people moving as if in a trance. “To Die In L.A.” was a standout track for me. It sounded like Beach House-Lite (Lower Dens actually opened for Beach House a while back).

Soon enough it was time for the main event, UMO. Everyone went wild when frontman Ruban Neilson made his way on stage. Neilson writes and records all the music for UMO and the songs off their latest album, Multi-Love, are some of the most personal Neilson has ever penned. The group launched right into a track off Multi-Love, “Like Acid Rain.” Turning the brief song into an extended jam that went right into “From the Sun,” UMO set the tone for the entire night. If you thought the album cuts were great, just wait until you heard what this band could do with them live.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between the album and live versions of a song when one person does all the writing and recording. It makes it hard for you to set your expectations of seeing the band in concert. But in the case of UMO, it was clear right from the get-go that this band was at the top of their game. Drummer Riley Geare delivered a tremendous drum solo right at the top of the set that had the crowd roaring for more. Later, keyboardist Quincy McCrary went on an extended piano solo which led into “Ffunny Ffrends.” Bassist Jake Portrait was rock steady, allowing Neilson leeway to shred on lead guitar. It was exhilarating to see such a cohesive, tight live performance.

UMO had no trouble pleasing the crowd with songs both old and new. There was the beautifully textured ballad “So Good at Being in Trouble” from II. “The World Is Crowded” was another standout track. Neilson jumped down into the crowd during “Stage or Screen,” creating an aisle through the throng of fans who all whipped out their camera phones to try and get a picture.

After closing with a great rendition of the title track from their latest album, UMO left the stage before returning to play an encore of “Necessary Evil” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.” It’s hard to find a better closing song than “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.” On the album, it’s a groovy, dance-y jam. Live, the tempo is much faster, the drums are front and center and it gets everybody moving. It was the perfect way to end a great night of music.

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