The psychedelic stylings of Auckland/Portland outfit Unknown Mortal Orchestra are certainly in demand at the minute considering the success of their third album Multi-Love earlier this year. So much so that their gig tonight in Whelan’s has sold out well in advance – the queue of lucky ticket holders barely deflecting the downtrodden looks of those mulling at the entrance in the hope of a last minute ticket.
Finnish support act Jaakko Eino Kalevi has the unenviable position of engaging the punters that have amassed front and centre for the main act, well ahead of their appearance on stage. His melodic electronica proves popular enough that the crowd are attentive but it’s a different level of energy than we’re expecting. It’s hazy, dream-like music – much in the vein of Ernest Greene’s Washed Out persona or Jagwar Ma’s more sultry moments. While it’s maybe the wrong place, it is definitely the right time for his music and regardless of the change of expected pace, his next visit to Ireland will surely be noted in many of the audience members’ calendars.
Our in-demand main act for this evening are greeted on stage by rapturous applause, expelling any notions that they are too niche or too aloof for main stream audiences. With the lack of extra tickets evident from the packed out venue, it’s safe to assume their next Irish date will need a bigger platform.
Opening with ‘Like Acid Rain’ from recent the Multi-Love album, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s slightly disco-esque new slant is obviously a hit with their fans. Frontman Ruben Nielson doesn’t readily seem the type to conjure up tracks that are so heavily indebted to the psychedelia of the ’60s and the ’70s funk canon; his high arching vocals and trucker cap are somewhat at odds with the common generic tropes. But when Nielson slides through the soulful verses of the opening track, he seems right at home. The blend of old and new material doesn’t feel disjointed either, with more recent tracks like ‘Ur Life One Night’ and the album’s title track providing a neat contrast to the more soft-focus songs from II and their self-titled debut.
Of all the material they tread through tonight, it’s the tracks from Multi-Love that seem to hit the mark most often. Maybe it’s their fresh nature – the album is not yet 5 months old. The addition of keyboardist Quincy McRary has completed the UMO live show, adding that extra layer from the recordings that sometimes felt left by the wayside when they previously played live – that’s not to say that drummer Riley Geare and bassist Jake Portrait don’t add to the show; Nielson and his two long-standing cohorts have their performances truly synchronised and McRary slots right into the dynamic easily.
As they return for the encore, they jam straight into the laid back groove of ‘Necessary Evil’ – the personal nature of the song not undermining the soft funk of the track’s percussion and bass. As we arrive at closing track ‘Can’t Keep Checking my Phone’, the audience break into the feverish rapture they have maintained throughout the set. It’s a raucous and fitting end to what is a surprisingly upbeat set, full of guitar solos and drum break-downs. So while it was an emotionally charged year that had Nielson arrive at Multi-Love’s set of songs, we can only hope that there is some adventure looming on his horizon to fuel the next LP.
Jaakko Eino Kalevi and Unknown Mortal Orchestra photographed for State by Leah Carroll.