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Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ O2 Academy

Bringing to life the sprawling opulence of their fifth record, UMO produced a show full of joy at the Academy.

By Jake Paterson, Co-Deputy Music Editor

UMO most often sit in the space between. Whether that was physically between two loving partners on the stunning Multi Love or blending their sound between extremes of tight control and reckless abandon, as a listener you're thrown into a web of psychadelic musings.

With nothing but a lamp-lit 'V' and a heavy smoke filling the venue before the band took to the stage, this hazy sense of being was physically manifested almost instantly. As the pianist Chris Nielson came on stage alone to drift through an ambient introductory piece there was a tentative energy in the crowd that subsided into confidence and joy as soon as the rest of the band joined Nielson to roll into the opener for their latest record V, 'The Garden'.

UMO | Juan Ortiz Areanas / Stay Golden PR

Unknown Mortal Orchestra are at the peak of their powers when they explore loops and repetitions. 'The Garden' is a case in point. As lead singer Ruban Nielson runs through the lyrics "Hold on tight / 'Cause it's violent after dark in the garden" the mystery of the unknown threat that he poses becomes more and more welcoming as he goes round and round again before snapping you out of the expected chorus with a freak-out guitar solo. It left me sitting just on the edge of being comfortable and uncomfortable, in the best way.

They swirled through 'Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)' and the fleshed out 'Weekend Run' by blending outro with intro in a way that caught me suddenly when I recognised a chord or vocal refrain in the midst of an improvised transition. Tracks like 'Thought Ballune' and 'Little Blu House' were played almost as one new piece latticed and interweaved together to stunning effect.

The crowd lapped it up. Someone resembling Doc from Back to the Future was losing his mind in the front row, and the rest swayed and bounced in hypnotic unison. When the squelchy synth of 'Necessary Evil' played through the air, the crowd belted it back with equal force.

UMO @ O2 Academy | Jake Paterson

The band then waltzed through some of the finest cuts from V, 'Nadja' and 'Layla', before taking their biggest hit 'So Good at Being in Trouble' and spinning the outro of the relatively low tempo and melancholy track into something deeply experimental to mix into 'Waves of Confidence'. The bulb-lit 'UMO' lights that had been captivating from the start were set off into a strobe.

The band left the stage after sixteen songs and, in what's one of the strangest encore moves I've seen, let Chris come out again to create piano ambience before launching into the opening chords of 'Multi Love'. As the rest of them came back on to deliver the punchy and bouncing track, they then swiftly left again - putting the song completely out on its own for us to think about.

Coming back out again, we were treated with the band's greatest hits. Singles 'Meshuggah' and 'That Life' were addictively groovy, and 'Hunnybee' perfectly sweet. To close, the band set us off in a party with 'Can't Keep Checking My Phone'. The lights shifted from golden yellow to blue and pink flashes and barely a single pair of shoes were on the ground in the Academy.

For what was a hell of a hot night, the crowd left in a jubilant energy, thinking only that they didn't want it to end.

Featured Image: Jake Paterson

Have you listened to V?