With a brand new album and 51 tour dates under their belt in 2018, you’d expect Unknown Mortal Orchestra to be going through the motions at this point. The Portland-based band has certainly been known for being prolific over the years, but you could argue this year they’ve truly outdone themselves. This was above and beyond effort was on full display during their House of Vans performance in Chicago this past Friday.
Lead singer and guitarist, Ruban Nielson, got things off to a thunderous start on the opening track “From The Sun”. The track from their sophomore LP is a fan favorite due to its haunting lyrics and its charmingly beautiful guitar work. Its live rendition sees a complete transformation in the songs’ essence. What was once an intimate and laid back tune becomes a deliciously funky piece of psychedelic rock. Not only is a larger emphasis put on the drums and bass in this rendition, but Nielson’s relatively tame guitar work becomes a mountainous jam of fuzzy guitar bliss. The extensive solos loosened up the crowd perfectly for what was to come. The bouncy “Necessary Evil” had people dancing with this its light drum work and catchy guitar and key motifs. It is easy to envision the song being played in a blues lounge as it fills the vibe with a mysterious and smoky vibe with its effortless strut.
The contrast between the rowdiness of “From The Sun” and the mysterious and more reserved “Necessary Evil” perfectly exemplifies who the band has become. They live perfectly in a juxtaposition between melody and grime. Where one moment you can be singing the infectiously funky melodies that make up much of the band’s later work. The next moment you can be smacked in the face with an absolute assault of distortion and fuzz. While this lack of commitment to either direction may foreshadow disaster in the near future, you cannot help but love that this band is toeing that line quite perfectly right now. Friday’s show at House of Vans proved that sometimes cohesion can be overpowered by true talent and versatility.