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Unknown Mortal Orchestra give Brooklyn Steel a whirlwind of emotions in support of “Sex & Food”

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, founded by Ruban Nielson in 2010, excels at the highest highs and lowest lows. The band is best when they play up the “psych” in psych-rock, or on the otherhand, the “rock.” In the middle, the music can lose its over-the-top nature.

At Brooklyn Steel on Wednesday, the high peaks came when Nielson broke into a quick, fuzzy shred session halfway through “Necessary Evil” and again when he jumped off stage and into the crowd between “American Guilt” and “Not In Love.” Lows, like “The Internet of Love (That Way)” have their own temporality and lasted just long enough for the young crowd to take a breath. During the 17-song set, the middle ground where feet drag more than guitars shred was primarily avoided.

While some songs – “So Good At Being In Trouble” comes to mind – did feel a bit too stretched out and pushed on becoming dry, the spontaneity and expansiveness helped balance things out. The show had 17-separate songs, but with the exception of a few moments where Nielson made banter, edges blurred in a nice, unfamiliar way. Even a die-hard fan will have moments at an Unknown Mortal Orchestra show where they can’t predict when a song will end.

Of course, old fans were there to hear “Multilove” and new ones who prefer the darkness of Sex & Food may have been eager to hear “Hunnybee,” but the show never really had a climax. You could say that Nielson going into the crowd was the finest moment, but it wasn’t a dramatic, performative entrance into the crowd like bands known for entering the crowd the Black Lips, Phoenix or The National might make. Instead, it was a calm appearance, like Nielson just wanted to hang out with the kids in the front row who came to see him.

I’d argue that “Necessary Evil,” which came third in the set, was almost perfection and was exactly what you go to a Unknown Mortal Orchestra show for. The guitar riffs, the bouncing around stage (the stage, by the way, was decorated to look like a trendy apartment with a bar cart and white plush carpet) and groovy drawl in Nielson’s voice were all just right. The song had a balance between sounding like what you’d hear a college band play in a sweaty garage and sounding like the anthemic, building psychedelia that Tame Impala or DIIV found their knocks with.

I have a feeling that how Nielson is able to perform “Necessary Evil” is something that will come to some of his new songs, too. For those three minutes, he looked comfortable and at ease. Sex & Food has been out for about a month now, but the band’s long, expansive tour has really just begun. See them in a few weeks, when Nielson feels as good playing new tracks as he does the old ones, and it’s sure to be a spectacle.

A full setlist is below. For tour dates, visit unknownmortalorchestra.com.

Brian Benton
Brian is the founder and editor of Respect Your Youngers. He currently lives in New York City, and previously lived in St. Louis and San Francisco. He enjoys public transportation and coffee, and can be found online at brianfbenton.com

Unknown Mortal Orchestra give Brooklyn Steel a whirlwind of emotions in support of “Sex & Food”

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, founded by Ruban Nielson in 2010, excels at the highest highs and lowest lows. The band is best when they play up the “psych” in psych-rock, or on the otherhand, the “rock.” In the middle, the music can lose its over-the-top nature.

At Brooklyn Steel on Wednesday, the high peaks came when Nielson broke into a quick, fuzzy shred session halfway through “Necessary Evil” and again when he jumped off stage and into the crowd between “American Guilt” and “Not In Love.” Lows, like “The Internet of Love (That Way)” have their own temporality and lasted just long enough for the young crowd to take a breath. During the 17-song set, the middle ground where feet drag more than guitars shred was primarily avoided.

While some songs – “So Good At Being In Trouble” comes to mind – did feel a bit too stretched out and pushed on becoming dry, the spontaneity and expansiveness helped balance things out. The show had 17-separate songs, but with the exception of a few moments where Nielson made banter, edges blurred in a nice, unfamiliar way. Even a die-hard fan will have moments at an Unknown Mortal Orchestra show where they can’t predict when a song will end.

Of course, old fans were there to hear “Multilove” and new ones who prefer the darkness of Sex & Food may have been eager to hear “Hunnybee,” but the show never really had a climax. You could say that Nielson going into the crowd was the finest moment, but it wasn’t a dramatic, performative entrance into the crowd like bands known for entering the crowd the Black Lips, Phoenix or The National might make. Instead, it was a calm appearance, like Nielson just wanted to hang out with the kids in the front row who came to see him.

I’d argue that “Necessary Evil,” which came third in the set, was almost perfection and was exactly what you go to a Unknown Mortal Orchestra show for. The guitar riffs, the bouncing around stage (the stage, by the way, was decorated to look like a trendy apartment with a bar cart and white plush carpet) and groovy drawl in Nielson’s voice were all just right. The song had a balance between sounding like what you’d hear a college band play in a sweaty garage and sounding like the anthemic, building psychedelia that Tame Impala or DIIV found their knocks with.

I have a feeling that how Nielson is able to perform “Necessary Evil” is something that will come to some of his new songs, too. For those three minutes, he looked comfortable and at ease. Sex & Food has been out for about a month now, but the band’s long, expansive tour has really just begun. See them in a few weeks, when Nielson feels as good playing new tracks as he does the old ones, and it’s sure to be a spectacle.

A full setlist is below. For tour dates, visit unknownmortalorchestra.com.

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