New Meets Old with Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Warsaw on Friday

June 22nd, 2015

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Warsaw – June 19, 2015

With a brand new album presenting a more mature, polished sound and a sold-out show at Warsaw on Friday night, it’s hard to say that Unknown Mortal Orchestra are really unknown any more. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for their older fans to worry that they’d maybe lose some of that off-kilter edge that brought a unique energy to their previous NYC appearances. By the end of the show, though, there was no doubt that while the band has moved in new directions, they still maintain the same old power.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra opened with frontman Ruban Nielson playing an electric sitar-guitar for “Like Acid Rain,” off of the just-released Multi-Love. The addition of a keyboard player was immediately felt as a swath of synth wrapped an already soulful vocal from Nielson, a sound that would persist throughout the set. If the original UMO sound was some sort of psychedelic extraterrestrial Beatles, the new material proved to be a similar mutation of Stevie Wonder. Older songs, like “How Can You Luv Me,” off their self-titled debut, whose space-out exploded into an early set drum solo, and “From the Sun,” off of II, straddled both worlds, rockers with a guitar-keyboard groove. New fans sang along to fresh material like “The World Is Crowded” while jostling the floor into a dance party. Evolved, domesticated, funked-up versions of old favorites “Thought Ballune,” “Ffunny Ffrends” and “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” were a reminder that no one quite sounds like this.

Nielson’s stage presence was a laid-back exuberance, taking many guitar solos from his knees, making even this larger space feel like an intimate affair, but still gesticulating and percolating with each note like a proper rock star should. At one point he put his guitar down and mounted the 20-foot-high speaker stack on the side of the stage. I didn’t quite see how he managed to get up there and wondered, as the bass, drums and keyboards continued to jam, how he’d get down without breaking his ankle. Of course, he did and he closed out the new-meets-old set back on that sitar for Multi-Love’s title track, joined by many voices in the audience, the new fans now properly old ones and the new UMO sound just the UMO sound. —A. Stein | @Neddyo