With help from tourmates Foxygen and Wampire, the Portland three-piece blow down the walls of the First Unitarian Church
-by Matt Kelchner
Last Friday night three highly buzzed about bands from the musical blogosphere came together at the First Unitarian Church at 22nd and Chestnut. Temperatures outside were freezing but after an hour or so of music the fabled basement of the church turned into a sauna. Headliners Unknown Mortal Orchestra packed a sold out show with help from Foxygen and Wampire.
While the openers provided enough entertainment to alone for a full night of fun, it was Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO) and their fast-paced, high-energy set who ruled the show. The trio pulled classics from their debut self-titled album as well as from their new release II.
The first band of the night was Portland’s Wampire. Led by the duo of Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps, the band currently has a 7” single out for “The Hearse”. The record acts as a preview for their upcoming debut full length album slated to be released in the spring.
Not only do Wampire share the same place of residence with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but the two are also label mates on Polyvinyl Records. Wampire made good names of themselves on Friday night, playing in front of a surprisingly half-packed room.
With only a few blue lamps to light the stage, they got off to a slow start due to equipment problems. Once the knobs were tweaked and pedals set, they put as much as they could into their short set. From listening to “The Hearse”, Wampire give an impression of being a psychedelic, synth heavy band. While the synth lines were there, the band drew a lot of their energy from sweeping surf rock riffs. Despite only playing a short set, the crowd’s interest in the band grew with each song. Wampire set the tone early on as to what would be a night full of very musically talented acts.
Foxygen, the much hyped and the generally well-received band from the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles were next up for the night. After a rather lengthy amount of time setting up, the full band came on stage. Lead singer Sam France came out donning his best impression of Bob Dylan circa the cover of Desire as the rest of the band dressed to fit their ‘70s psychedelic rock inspired sound.
By the time the notes from their first song were played, the floor was nearly full. In what seemed to be an excellent chance for Foxygen to give Philadelphia a reason to believe in the hype, it was their lead singer that led them to a rather disappointing set.
The rest of the band provided for a great impression from their critically acclaimed 2013 release We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. France on the other hand, showcased an immature and borderline embarrassing example of how an extremely passionate front man should not act. In what started out as France expressing his feelings from the songs, his frustration quickly came to light with each bit of microphone feedback. This evolved as the set went on into acts like punching the microphone. France also did what any new band should never do, complain about the sound guy to the crowd. Despite all of this, the majority of the crowd were thoroughly enthralled with the full bands performance.
After a half-assed apology and sarcastic apology for his actions, France and the rest of Foxygen exited the stage only to be cheered back on stage from their adoring fans. The band ended with one of their strongest singles “San Francisco”. They then left the stage again to a generous roar from the crowd.
With a packed room ready for them to go on, Unknown Mortal Orchestra took to the stage roughly around 11 PM. The crowd was a diverse mix ranging from college-aged hipsters to dads who were clearly not there watching after their kids. The setup was simple, just guitar, bass and drums. And surprising in this day and age, there were no pre-recorded tracks set to play (or at least audible to my ear).
The level of intensity that UMO began with remained the same until their very last song. The band did not skip a beat throughout their entire set. While only comprised of three members, they were able to fully flesh out each of their songs. Bassist Jake Portrait and drummer Riley Geare were a tight knit duo that provided a rock solid rhythm section that allowed for guitarist/singer Ruban Neilson to go wild with each of his many guitar solos.
Compared to both their albums, Unknown Mortal Orchestra played last Friday night with an edge. It was a harder sound that was clearly adapted to translate well during live shows. Throughout their 13 song set, the band played a healthy amount from both their self-titled first album and their recently released sophomore album II. Highlights included old favorites such as “How Can You Luv Me” and “Bicycle”. They also played the song that started it all for them, “Ffunny Ffrends”. The group anonymously released back in 2010 and help launched their career. Cuts like “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)”, “Faded In The Morning” and “No Ned For A Leader” were played from their latest album.
The night came to end as Unknown Mortal Orchestra came back out for a one-song encore. After fans had been yelling and shouting for them to play almost every older song they knew, the band decided to finish with “Boy Witch”. It was during this song that the crowd saw some of Neilson’s most impressive solos.
The hour and fifteen minute set was filled with sing-a-longs and rows of people all popping their heads and rocking out. At times there was even a small mosh pit that broke out in front of the stage (uncommon for a psych band). Each song ended with applause and requested for personal favorites. But by the time the encore had come, the crowd’s energy was drained. It was incredible how UMO was able to keep things going at such a high level.