The days after Mardi Gras are generally somber, slow-moving affairs as the city puts itself back together and folks return to the reality of their day-to-day lives. The comedown was a little easier this year thanks to a jaw-dropping performance from Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Republic last Thursday. UMO’s groove-heavy psych rock proved to be the perfect cure for the post-Mardi Gras blues. The brave and bleary-eyed souls who managed to rouse themselves from the citywide haze and make it out for the show were not disappointed.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra have built a strong following in New Orleans over the past few years thanks to frequent stops in the Crescent City during their international tours. UMO’s sound jives well with New Orleans’ music fans, in large part likely due to each member’s virtuosic abilities and – as a more recent development – their tendency to suddenly launch into exploratory psych-funk jams with slippery time signatures. This is definitely not “jazz-rock,” straight-laced “funk” or generic indie rock; UMO’s music retains the spirit of adventure inherent in jazz, and the fans who turned out were largely an eclectic, energetic and youthful bunch.
Thursday’s setlist leaned heavily on UMO’s first two albums, with the occasional song from 2015’s critically acclaimed Multi-Love thrown in for good measure. Multi-Love’s sound is significantly more dancefloor-focused than the earlier material and – in the live setting – plays out like vintage Prince era guitar space funk. With the guitar turned way up and the drummer laying into the beat with a hard rock intensity (also taking a few various moments in the spotlight to pummel out a monster drum solo), the songs gained a much harder edge.
Songs like “Ur Life One Night” showcased the band in lockstep mode, bombastic yet orchestral, tight in a groove, all the while ripping through a warped array of melodies. “The World Is Crowded” was one of the more ‘straightforward’ tunes included in the setlist; yet, the repetitive lyrical makeup and rotating synth whirls (must mention that the live show has been greatly enhanced by Quincy McCrary, the newest member of the band) gave this dreamy bit of psychedelia a narcotic and lasting effect.
The encore featured some of the tightest grooves of the night – with the horns from The Revivalists joining the band for two of the strongest tracks from Multi-Love, “Necessary Evil” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.” The addition of horns sounded perfectly natural, blasting above the futuristic UMO sound and kicking in a bit of the local flavor that UMO channels each time they play in New Orleans.
With Mardi Gras fading in the rearview mirror, UMO’s exceptional performance served as a fitting introduction to the next big citywide party. Let the countdown to Jazz Fest begin.
Like Acid Rain
From the Sun
How Can You Luv Me
Ur Life One Night
The World Is Crowded
So Good at Being in Trouble
Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark)
Stage or Screen
Can’t Keep Checking My Phone