Unknown Mortal Orchestra
with special guests Foxygen
Lincoln Hall! Wow! Hats off to venues that can dovetail a bar, a restaurant,
and concert venue in such an incredibly seamless fashion. This place is
one of the best small venues I’ve been too, sound-wise, environment-wise,
and price-wise. Not only that, but they are also home to one of the better
tacos (pork belly mind you) and beer selections I’ve ever seen at a music
venue. If you’re looking to catch a cheap show in Chicago, I’d start here.
Last night fellow LxL’er Wes and myself were treated to quite the show
in this wonderful hall of sound and music. The lineup: Wampire, Foxygen, and
Unknown Mortal Orchestra. All psychedelic throwbacks, each equipped with
their own unique sounds and quirks. If you follow us at LxL, I know you’ve
heard me gush over two of these three bands a lot lately. Well put on your
raincoat because I’m about to gush all over the place once again.
To begin the night, I ordered a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (one of the better
beers on this Earth) accompanied by the pork belly tacos I mentioned
earlier. Normally, I wouldn’t mention these types of things in a concert
review, but hey, normally you don’t get treated like this at a concert. Let alone a concert that only cost $14! Opening up for the night was Wampire. I feel like the name suits them well because after saying it you can gracefully flow into a “wamp, waaamp” without skipping a beat. They were about as energetic as a nine year old and a heavily sedated bull dog. Their sound was almost there, but come on, you need to bring something to the table.
Things quickly picked up when Foxygen took stage. I mean REALLY picked up.
The three lead men, and one hot leading lady with bright pink hair,
strutted out adorning long fur coats and sunglasses. I really wouldn’t have
pictured them in anything else to tell you the truth. It fits their sound to
a “T”. The jackets and shades came off one by one as they rocked and pranced
and danced like an early Mick Jagger. Everything leading man Sam France
did with every music cue was amazingly on-point. He literally
exuded the soul of his music and showed us what a leading man for a psychedelic
punk-rock band that pretends they are from 1970 is made of. During “San Francisco” the crowd was treated to a mime-type act that was both creepy yet perfectly fitting for the song. Grand-Pappy Stolts was at the show and claimed it reminded him of the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World. I’m sure even if you have never been you get the reference, and let me tell you, it’s even creepier when you are seeing these robotic movements with a full-tooth smile coming from a grown man singing in front of you. There were a few moments where you could tell he was even experiencing some mic issues, but he’d just grab another mic and make the most of the situation by shaking them back in forth, creating a psychedelic vocal pattern that actually worked rather well.
^It’s a Small World After All … Foxygen version.
Lead guitarist Jonathan Rado is no slouch either. He plays his heart out
with the energy of Keith Moon (if Keith played the guitar) at times and the
vibe of an early Keith Richards at others. He’s like a swirling
juxtaposition of Keith’s. Trippy right? Not as trippy as his psyched out
sonic guitar sounds. The only other band member really worth mentioning was
the pink-haried lil’ lady. She had this dead-pan “who cares” attitude and
used it pretty well. And what little she sings, her voice fits the attitude
perfectly. All of this weird and fun energy really made for a great show,
and they really sounded terrific. All that to say, I personally would rather
see all that energy and showmanship transferred to heavy instrumentation and
performance rather than just quirkiness and weirdness, which is exactly what Unknown Mortal Orchestra did. This is why in my opinion, although Foxygen did make for a helluva good show and I highly recommend seeing them, they did get a bit upstaged by UMO. Some of my fellow concert goers disagree, but I stand by it.
UMO came out and literally killed it (or figuratively). The two key components of this group are lead man Ruban Nielson and drummer Riley Geare (who also doubled as David Bowie during the Wampire set). One concern I had going into the show, and as I expressed in my review of their newest album, was that I wasn’t sure if Ruban could pull off his vocals live. I’ve seen bands bomb falsetto live before, and I’ve also seen bands that have heavy vocal effects sound terrible when it’s just their raw voice on stage. Ruban did not have this problem. He almost sounds better live than he does on record. His voice is much more soulful and powerful than you would think by his studio work. He does use slight vocal effects through his mic, but he knows how to do it well. He also knows how to play his guitar … and again, he knows how to do this very well. I swear he has a guitar neck imprinted into his brain. His knowledge of guitar and how to use it in a song is nearly mind blowing. He takes mellow songs like “So Good At Being In Trouble” and twists them into this high powered explosion of riffs and seems to do it effortlessly. I haven’t had a guitarist surprise me this much in a live show in quite sometime. Nothing Ruban did nor any solo he performed seemed contrived in the slightest degree, which is something I feel like so many other musicians (especially guitarists) tend to struggle with these days ((cough) WILCO). Eh-hem. Apologies. That was weird, I’ve never coughed while typing before.
The fact that Riley plays with a drums-follow-guitar type method really
makes for some interesting back beats as well. His fills are insanely
reminiscent of Ringo Starr, and it just so happens that he looks eerily
similar to the long-schonzed legend as well. If you combo’d Ringos fills
with hip-hop beats, you’d have Riley Geare. The confidence that he and Ruban
play with and their extensive knowledge of each of their respective
instruments, really makes for a great show. Their psychedelic sound is less
comprised of long spacey jams or swirling sonic effects, but more so just
rooted in the tones of the guitars and the vocal effects. It doesn’t come
through in the same way live as it does on the album, but their music
certainly translates much more brilliantly than I expected. One cool little
side-note I’d like to mention was that they they kept their amps side-stage pointing directly at themselves and just mic’d the amps from there.
I imagine they did this because of the size of the venue so the audience was cross-fired with stage sound and speaker sound. If that’s the case than all bands need to adopt this method, because it sounded amazing. I don’t know if that was a venue suggestion or a band suggestion, but whoever discovered this method needs a raise.
Many kudos to both leading bands, as well Lincoln Hall. I hope to revisit
all three sometime in the near future, and I recommend you do the same.