Unknown Mortal Orchestra + Lower Dens Rock Irving Plaza

Unknown Mortal Orchestra is fast becoming one of the best live bands going right now.

“It used to make me sad, now I just like it,” said the girl next to me during Lower Dens’ set, perfectly summing up everyone’s relationship with indie music. And it was in fact a string of sad days for Jana Hunter and Lower Dens, as their van had been stolen a couple of weeks prior (coincidence or not, in Ted Cruz’s home state). They’re two thirds of the way through their fundraising campaign for getting some of it back — go help out! The set, besides comprising heavily of bass and synth backing tracks that it would have been a pleasure to see performed, was a laid back, Hunter-being-herself playing the tunes kind of set. Happened to be extra special due to her iridescent thrift store shirt, worn, apparently, in honor of Ruban Nielson’s birthday.

The sold out Irving Plaza stewed with the audience’s expectations as we watched ads for upcoming shows, approaching peak crunch. Eventually UMO took the stage, sporting a sharp new stage set. They opened strong with a re-worked, guitar-solo heavy “From the Sun”. Nielson clearly had been having fun playing his guitar this tour. In addition to his trademark, needley soul style, he included some obvious licks on some jams, just for the lolz. And there was a new face on stage: Quincy McCrary behind the keys, apparently brought on to help pull off the synth-heavy, Multi-Love, his latest, half pop / half Stevie Wonder-on-salvia record from late 2015, and help he did. Second song was a new one, and, for me, completely proved all of Nielson’s Multi-Love instincts correct; these new ones kill live, and even the most Rundgren-eque oddities from the record revealed some of the strongest grooves in a live context. I admit, I’m a huge fan and I didn’t totally get it until I saw it live. Now I am convert.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra is fast becoming one of the best live bands going right now. They’ve always been lucky for Jake Portrait’s contributions on bass, but the addition of Quincy McCrary reveals a band going for gold. His third quarter keys solo (spoiler alert to the faithful) masterfully broke down “So Good at Being in Trouble” into a dirgey, stride piano rendition — sneaking in a “Happy Birthday” for Ruban — and he otherwise licked the synth/piano parts clean for the entire 90-minute show. But the coolest part of the show, especially for longtime fans, were the reworks, and man, these guys jam. Look forward to a festival season packed with stories of these guys, and check out some photos by Julia Anrather from the stellar Irving Plaza performance.