On record, Unknown Mortal Orchestra exudes a slow-burn patience that doesn’t inspire much excitement for a live show. As a result, I admittedly had low expectations for the band’s set at the Larimer Lounge Monday night. But, like any great live act, Ruban Nielson and his muscular rhythm section used recorded material as a base on which to improvise. The results silenced any doubts and proved UMO is a band that demands to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Openers and local up-and-comers Gauntlet Hair — who have been touring with UMO for the past few dates — warmed up the Larimer by packing it full. The band’s set was a study in rhythm as guitarist/vocalist Andy R. and drummer Craig Nice careened through a set that was akin to Animal Collective (i.e. vocals heavy on reverb and treble) but with a much more progressive bent.
After Gauntlet Hair’s well-received warmup, UMO took the stage. In the spirit of Halloween they were dressed as a bass-playing nun, drumming priest and a guitar player in a white jumpsuit with Elton John glasses, circa 1973. Kicking things off with an energetic rendition of “Strangers Are Strange” the band members immediately established themselves as an impressive live trio. Each of their 8-song set was full of a life only hinted at on their self-titled debut.
Tracks like “Ffunny Ffriends” and “Thought Ballune” galloped where the recorded counterparts shuffled. The extended leads in “Little Blu House” and “How Can U Love Me” absolutely ripped. Underlying all of this were Nielson’s vocals — at once fresh yet familiar. Raspy and ever so slightly helium-induced, they harkened back to the best elements of the psychedelic era and blended well with the persistence of the drums and bass.
Considering the band only has one album, the set was bound to be short. Sadly excluding “Jello and Juggernauts” UMO closed out the night with an amazing rendition of Can’s “Vitamin C.” The spirited cover fit perfectly into the rest of the set and proved an apt example of the entirety of the surprisingly satisfying performance.
Paul Custer is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.