Auckland's cherished Town Hall became a mosh pit of Ruban-loving fans along with groovers and inspired followers of NZ indie rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. A heavy two-piece band from Geelong, Australia called Divide And Dissolve opened the evening with a 20 minute set that was followed by an hour and a half show divided in two by the band known fondly as UMO (with a few surprises in the mix).
Unfortunately, Divide And Dissolve were hit with a few complications at the beginning of their set; the amps were far too loud and had upstairs audiences leaving, a guitar string broke and then there was no backup guitar available for them. They opened with a song called Assymolation, this consisted of atmospheric drones with electric guitar riff's and intense drums by S//N that sounded awesome to start with but, in my opinion, went on a tad too long.
While waiting for the guitar's return, the melodic instrumentalist, known as T//R asked that the audience "be quiet for a moment". She spoke of white supremacy and the unfair imprisonment and murder of people of colour. The mosh cheered tremendously, giving the band members some confidence which proved helpful in their performance, as their stage presence gained a flair that was missing. They ended their short set by thanking Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO) for the opportunity, "it's so special to play with cool people". Definitely a promising pair, just a bit of bad luck.
UMO walked out very casually at 9:30pm, right on time. Ruban Nielson (guitar and vocals), Kody Nielson (drums), Jake Portrait (bass) and Thomas Mabus (keyboards). They started with atmospheric, drone-like sounds that allowed a transition of sorts from opening duo, Divide And Dissolve. This moved into From The Sun from early album II and roughly three quarters through the song, Ruban continued to shred on his guitar while running through the mosh, to the balcony, around the circle, back on stage and casually returning to the mic. What a way to open! In the first 5 minutes, UMO had made their show entirely inclusive, showcased insane talent and looked super comfortable while doing so.
Between each song, the entire hall went into darkness and this transition effect contrasted effectively with the ongoing strobe light display that mimicked the significant rhythmic pulses of each song. During Necessary Evil, Ruban and Kody's Dad, Chris Nielson, walked on stage and accompanied a few of their songs with the saxophone. This was well received by the audience. Also during this song, Ruban sat down on a chair towards the back of the stage with many in the audience seemingly in awe of his talent, repeating this multiple times during the show - usually following with a particularly 'wow' moment.
Darkness again and we heard Swim And Sleep which was shortly followed by the traditional welcome. Without mucking around, Ruban introduced their new song, Ministry Of Alienation. An awesome song from what I could hear, but that wasn't much. It was at this point that I realised I couldn't understand what Ruban was saying because of the vocal to instrument volume ratio propelled to the side circle seats. I only noticed it then because this was a new song that I didn't already know the lyrics to, I imagine that from the mosh pit or centre circle, the volume ratio's would've been better.
Darkness indicated the end of another song and Ruban introduced So Good At Being In Trouble, one of the more alternative/indie songs of the evening and obviously a crowd favourite when the audience was louder than the vocalist during the chorus. UMO gave the ending to So Good At Being In Trouble a major twist, with intense psychedelic strobe lights, another wicked shred on the guitar from Ruban and the other band members all letting loose on their instruments while remaining perfectly synchronised. Astonished, the only words that came to mind were 'absolute talent'.
UMO continued to wow the audience with super high energy and synchronised music and lighting effects, especially, and rather fittingly, in Nerve Damage where the strobe lights flashed extremely fast and through an array of colours. The band carried the intensity through each song, particularly Ruban, who gave another shred on his guitar during American Guilt and jumped into the mosh pit while singing Not In Love We're Just High. Again, the entire crowd in absolute awe, one crowd member even shouted Ruban's awesome-ness into his microphone. To finish the first half of their set, they played Multi-Love, shredded their instruments to the point where Kody's arms are moving so fast and hard to see under the fluorescent lights. Freaking awesome!
The break was five minutes long and the crowd was screaming and cheering through it's entirety. To open the second half, Ruban introduced a very special guest, Bic Runga! Made sense as Kody Neilsen is her partner but still a wicked surprise for everyone. Bic said, "I wanted to share the stage with you Ruban," before joining in on UMOs' Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays and hit single Hunnybee. The combined vocal harmonies were unsurprisingly perfect, I only wished the vocals for both Bic and Ruban were louder for the circle seats, I know I would've enjoyed it even more.
With a quick happy birthday to their manager Tom and a quick acknowledgement from Chris' sick saxophone, UMO closed the evening with Can't Keep Checking My Phone and a legendary, statue-like raise of Ruban's electric guitar. Ruban thanked the crowd and the talented, and most probably fatigued, team casually walked off stage.
UMO's show was an insane journey from hardcore psychedelic rock, to pop punk to alternative/indie and was an astonishing performance from all members of the band. The crazy light displays, sick wardrobe (Ruban's Muy Thai boxing shorts and Kody's massive red glasses), the surprise visitors and the crowd participation were just a few elements that added to the overall quality of the show. Sure, there were moments where Ruban's guitar strap kept falling off his shoulder, sound levels weren't 100% from my position in the crowd, Ruban couldn't get back over the bars but none of these moments took too much away from the performance. The full experience was definitely best in the mosh pit, however was still spectacular from anywhere else in the hall.
If you ever get the chance to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra live, take it. It's a show you do not want to miss out on.
Special thanks from Radio 13 to Reuben Raj from SomeBizarreMonkey for all the sick photos of the evening! More photos further below!
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Released: April 2018