It’s been a busy year for Portland-based lo-fi outfit, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Not only has the trio released its self-titled debut, but it has also been touring the world non-stop for well over six months now. I was able to catch the band a few months ago at The Echo, however frontman Ruban Nielson was under the weather, which affected his vocals and energy. The show was good, but it wasn’t great. This being said, I could see the potential for a stellar performance, and so when I caught word that UMO was circling back through Los Angeles, I made sure to check them out again.
That decision was the best one I’ve made in awhile. Ruban was healthy, and it showed. His vocals were dead-on; he was energetic and engaged with the audience; he strummed his guitar flawlessly. Another standout difference between this performance and the last was the change of drummer. I was expecting the group’s regular percussionist, Julien Ehrlich, to join Ruban and bassist Jake Portrait on the stage, but to my surprise, he did not. Instead, Ruban’s younger brother, Kody, sat behind the drum kit. As talented and energetic as Ehrlich is, my heart skipped a beat when I recognized Kody setting up gear. He and his older brother used to play together in a band called The Mint Chicks in their native country of New Zealand. And though that project ended up running its course, there was never a question that the brothers Nielson possessed a magnetizing chemistry onstage—Mint Chicks shows were brilliantly chaotic.
In true Nielson form, the brothers slashed and pounded their instruments, creating an intensity that UMO’s previous performance lacked. Kody picked up the songs quickly, feeling comfortable enough behind the drum set to let loose and go wild. He also provided backup vocals that meshed harmoniously with Ruban’s.
The only problem with seeing UMO live is the set list—it’s limited. The band released its freshman effort last year, and has since been on the road, making it difficult to write new material. As a result, its arsenal contains a mere nine tracks, which, recorded, account for not even 30 minutes worth of material. Lucky for the audience, Ruban likes to improvise. Each of the two- to three-minute songs were extended as the talented guitar player noodled, adding solos to opportune areas within his tunes to double their length. After playing every track on the record, UMO called it a night, and the only disappointment for the audience was no encore.