Live Review – Unknown Mortal Orchestra

By Kane Power (@ElHeavio)

21.5.2015, Islington Assembly Hall, London

It’s a nice spring evening in Islington and I’m outside the fantastic Assembly Hall drinking beers on a park bench, waiting to go see a band with my wife. That sentence alone makes me smile a little. It’s exactly what I want from a Thursday night, or any night really, and tonight it’s a band we’ve both been looking forward to for quite a while; Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

We forewent the opening acts in favor of those pre-show beers, but first up was Moon King, followed by Silicon, which is fronted by the younger brother, Kody, of the UMO frontman Ruban. UMO waited 20 minutes for the crowd to gather and took to the stage without fanfare or introduction, immediately launching into their set. A few songs in it was obvious that they are a good band, skilled with their instruments with a flair for fairly catchy indie pop songs, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was waiting for something cool to happen.

On this night UMO lacked the kind of excitement, energy or spectacle that I would have expected from a band of their stature and failed to display any of the psychedelic tendencies associated with their recorded output. Each member had a solo, and impressive they were, but I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a sparse performance. Some more bells and whistles would have been welcome.

Ruban Neilson is a noticeably proficient guitarist but his equally excellent voice is almost completely masked by the lo-fi effect that dominates his sound. We as listeners are offered only glimpses into the soul-tinged tenor that could have elevated this show from the mediocre into something truly special.

Tonight, UMO lack ‘the spark’. For £17 a ticket I’m not expecting pyrotechnics or acrobatics, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to feel at least some kind of connection or share a special moment. Instead the audience is treated to a band going through the motions. I wonder if the ‘last minute secret free show’ they played at Birthday’s in Dalston later that night would have had the energy that was missing in Islington? Were they holding something in reserve for the more intimate show? If that was the case it feels like a nonchalant scoff at the sold out hall of 800 people who paid good money for roughly an hour of underwhelming indie.

Maybe I just missed the point, and for the sake of UMO and their fans I hope that is the case, but what I saw tonight was a fairly standard band playing fairly standard music and I remain unconvinced.

Leave a Reply