Real Live Action

UMO || Photo by Neil Krug

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

w/ Lower Dens

Rickshaw Theatre; January 28, 2016

Leigh Empress
Neil Krug

Lower Dens began suddenly, without any attempt at wooing their audience to attention. But the venue didn’t provide much foreplay either. The house lights stayed on. And as if encouraging chatter, the set was kept quiet, dulling the characteristically atmospheric sound of Lower Dens to muffled elevator music.

Jana Hunter’s drawl brought a fullness. Songs like “I Get Nervous” and “Odine,” though delivered with a flat expression, were hauntingly tender. Hunter’s vocals were equally matched by Geoff Graham on bass. In addition to giving a skilled performance, Graham seemed to be having the most fun on stage, playing his guitar with the mannerisms of a jazzman at a double bass.

Halfway through the set an audience member shouted to increase the volume, drawing attention to a noticeably absent sound tech, who seemed more consumed with the status of their phone than the stage.

While the technical circumstances weren’t ideal, it wasn’t until the final few songs that Lower Dens seemed to really shake off their apathy. The last song was “All The Best Wishes” performed solo by Hunter from a catalogue of her music before Lower Dens. Hunter sung directly at the audience with an intensity that commanded the room, showing a contrast between the confidence of her solo performance and the subtle awkwardness of the group dynamic with Lower Dens. She gave an anthem that was both strong and sobering.

By the time Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage, the room had an incredibly different feel, and it was packed. When frontman Ruban Nielson approached the mic, the energy in the audience was explosive. The standing area became a sticky dance floor in seconds, and got increasingly rambunctious throughout the set. But what else would you expect? With catchy songs like “Why Do You Luv Me?” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” it isn’t hard to stir people into a frenzy.

UMO were tight. They played to an engaged audience, and they knew it. Nielson brought an impressive array of on-stage dance moves. However, this charisma only barely camouflaged the strain in Nielson’s voice as he struggled over some lyrics. It was the performance you’d expect at the end of a tour, not the beginning. “So Good At Being In Trouble” and “Multi-Love” were especially laboured, though the audience sung along in stride.

All things considered, this night was pretty good. The misty Lower Dens set was unfortunately dismissable, but UMO provided a brilliant catharsis. They knew how to close the night euphoric, leaving their audience glowing and wanting more.

—Leigh Empress