Written for Epigram.
Audience-invasions and disappointing, fluctuating sound-quality: Deputy Music Editor Kate Hutchison provides a belated overview of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Bristol show at SWX.
UMO’s Bristol show at SWX was a mixed bag; fluctuating sound quality, the refreshing audience-invasions and weird set times. I’ll start with the set times.
SWX is notorious for its trashy weekend club nights, (sorry not sorry), and with UMO’s show being on a Friday night, the show started ridiculously early. So early, in fact, I ended up missing the UMO’s support, Makeness. I was slightly broken; I was unusually excited to see a support act. But I forced to quickly push my heartache aside, as UMO’s performance was kicked off at the premature time of 8pm.
Usually, shows slowly evolve and transgress from humbled hellos toward invasive stage dives, from accurately relaying a record’s sound to adding extended solos and strange, melodic twists. Not UMO; only two songs in – with mere greetings nowhere to be seen – frontman Ruban Nielson joined the crowd and sauntered through the venue – until he disappeared. Admittedly, being near 5ft ensures I don’t get to see much at crowded shows anyway; but it was mutually unclear throughout the crowd where he had actually gone – the shop, maybe??
Surprise! He appeared – probably a little too late to properly carry off his wacky detour – soloing over the balcony above. With audience interest wading slightly, it was over quickly, and he returned back to the stage for the next tune. A weird way to switch things up, but it set an interesting tone for the performance.
The setlist was a refreshing and balanced showcase of UMO’s fun sound catalogue, with tunes like ‘Necessary Evil’ infused with a considerable focus on their new record Sex & Food. Oscillating, kaleidoscopic lights doused Nielson’s striking (and possibly theatrical?) solos and buzzing stage presence. Visually, the show was alluring. The sound, however, was underpinned by a fluctuating quality. While some tunes saw Nielson’s stints of falsetto command potent drums and UMO’s characteristic basslines, others suffered imbalanced vocal and instrumental, and unwanted distortion obscured some of the band’s most exciting sounds – like a loss of the characteristic synth-domination of ‘Multi Love.’
But I don’t want to portray this show unfairly, it was really, very good. The intricacies of the melodic soloing from Nielson carved a whole new dimension – and literal song-sections – to UMO’s sound unheard on their records. It was fun; halfway through their performance a guy served the entire band casual cocktails, and Neilson’s final union with the audience for ‘Not In Love We’re Just High’ was beautifully reflective of the song’s impassioned undertones. Vitally, the show’s encore left the show’s memory in positive regard; UMO’s humbled goodbyes were played out through ‘Hunnybee,’ and ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,’ which curated an overwhelming sense of fun, energy, and satisfaction. Despite the awkward mishaps of the show, the band got the entire crowd groovin’ on their exit.