My alma mater held a five year reunion this past month because they want my money. While I won’t say that they couldn’t pay me to go since some of my friends who work at the University actually got paid to go and eat/drink, I will say that I don’t think about college enough to decide whether any reunion would be worth going to for me. And yet, 2018 has proven to be my year for seeing all these artists I jammed in strictly in college. Bands I probably forgot about the second I learned how to put on my mortarboard. (That’s just what happens when you get a degree in the humanities though. The second college ends that “oh shit was this degree supposed to actually get me a job?” moment hits and you either plunge into the the first retail job that offers benefits or you do what I did and stave off life by going into grad school. One can argue that’ll only make a bigger problem out of the original one but I let my two degrees speak for themselves.)
Anyway so like I was saying, artists I listened to in college. St. Vincent came in February and rocked it; Minus the Bear came in June and rocked it. Last Thursday at the White Oak Music Hall, Portland-based Unknown Mortal Orchestra dropped by to turn my biological clock back 8 years and rocked the fuck out too. Crazy!
Look, I’m not going to pretend that I’m the biggest UMO fan, which I’m sure a lot of people try to do. Can’t blame them. They’re the perfect band to try to convince people you love more than anyone else. They’ve been around for like eight years (since 2010) which is short enough to remain relevant but long enough to put out at least several albums. They’re music sounds great and accessible cause it’s got groove but it’s just as good if not better to listen to while baked, which means you will always find a “deeper” meaning to their music. They’re from Portland, so that’ll impress anyone not living in Oregon or Washington State. Honestly, if you need a band right now to brag to all your friends about in the most esoteric way, grab yourself some UMO.
So yeah, not some uber fan but I’ve got tons of love and respect for this group led by singer/guitarist, Ruban Nielson. It’s just great music and something told me that seeing them live would be a real treat. Sure enough five minutes into the set and Nielson decided to walk out into the audience, do shots of hooch like it was no biggie, and make his way back up, ALL WHILE PLAYING A SOLO. That my friends is showmanship.
They played a great set, strong and well-ordered by the simple fact they played shit from across their discography and made sure their second song was one literally everyone came to hear (“Ffunny Ffriends”). Everything else packed the right kind of punch and that drummer was FILTHY. Beyond the music, UMO ensured the audience would have some other cool things to wax over. Let’s review.
Now I’m no lighting expert unless we’re talking getting that perfect angle for snapping pics of mammal skulls at the natural history museum. I got that on lock. Anything else and I’m dense. However, I’m more than certain UMO’s lighting effects were top notch. They utilized nearly every color of the visible spectrum, conjured up tasteful combos and paired each song with a different pattern. Talk about dedication and I’m sure a real pain in the ass to plan out, but the results worked and the indirect lighting choice made for a mysterious, not-of-this planet atmosphere. Especially their neon green and pink design. I’m almost certain they did it cause of Stranger Things and how it made foggy neon a thing again. No, I’ve never seen Stranger Things but that really just makes my case stronger.
In fact, I’m more than certain UMO’s lighting designs were more than just for show. Any basic Wikipedia inquiry and Google Image search tandem will teach you how important colors are for marketing and advertising, especially red and yellow, a potent combo that allegedly create a sense of urgency mixed with joy (think being a kid and seeing a happy meal box). McDonald’s, Wendy’s In-N-Out, Burger King, Carl’s Jr./ Hardee’s, Buc-ees (but really, the product speaks for itself), Snapchat. They’re all red and/or yellow. Well you know who else did it? That’s right, UM fuckin’ O. You knew something was up cause I’ve never seen a band put on straight up red and yellow for their stage lights. Savvy bastards probably sold out their merch.
Why would a band want five ten foot IKEA shelves filled with what looked like potted aloe vera plants to form their backdrop? It’s hard to say. On MythBusters they found out that playing loud music to plants kind of helps them grow. Maybe, UMO is getting into the the plant nurturing and slinging business. Maybe they were gifted a bunch of aloe vera plants and slapped them on stage as a good gesture. Maybe they were hoping that aloe vera plants would look a lot like big pot plants from far away. I could respect a power move like that, very Snoop Dog, Cypress Hill-esque. Didn’t work but I couldn’t dream of coming up with that so what do I know.
UMO did not talk much between songs which I enjoyed. My whole thing about artists talking between songs is that you’ve gotta be funny as all hell or willing to dish out some major gossip about other people. I know too many musicians who thought public speaking would be an easily transferable skill, only to flounder the second they needed their brain to compose some prose. It’s counterintuitive but it’s also reality, and the fact is most bands need to can the small talk. Notable exceptions include any death metal singer who shouts out the name of every track with the cookie monster vocals no one understands. It’s such a pointless move but always gets the crowd going. Also Rob Halford from Judas Priest. I’ve seen them twice now and he always rolls his r’s (e.g. “Are you ready for the “Leather Rebel?”). Very classy. Steve Miller was cool cause he has that soft southern cadence and tells stories about more famous rock stars: “I got this here guitar from Eric Clapton after he beat ZZZ Top in a game of Uno officiated by every member of Lynrd Skynrd.” Something along those lines. Point is, UMO didn’t mince words and that was cool.
In summation, fantastic show, go see them, and have a shot ready to go for your boy Ruby.