Unknown Mortal Orchestra Bring Psych Jams to Irving Plaza


Andrea Aniceto Chavez

The Unknown Mortal Orchestra is a psychedelic sensation that really knows how to throw a party.

By Carter Shelter, Staff Writer

When Unknown Mortal Orchestra released “Multi-Love,” their third album last spring, it quickly became clear to listeners that the band’s frontman and mastermind Ruban Nielson had opened up a new realm for psychedelic pop music. The album boasts hooks that are catchy while still experimenting with interesting sounds and song structures. Still, it felt as though something was missing. That something came out in spades at their first of two sold out shows at Irving Plaza last weekend.

Nielson and the rest of the band bring a ferocious and fun energy to their live show that’s hard to resist, though it’s tough to think of a reason anyone would want to. They can take a great singalong like “So Good At Being In Trouble” and tag a funk-flavored jam onto the end to make sure everyone is dancing around the room. They can let Nielson bend minds with his guitar playing in “From the Sun,” or let keyboardist Quincy McCrary wow the crowd with an impressive piano feature before launching into the grooving “Ffunny Ffriends.”


Maybe it helped that it was Nielson’s birthday, and that they’re currently rounding out touring behind a breakthrough album, but the band seemed to be all locked into the same wavelength. Each twist and turn they brought just seemed to up the energy more and more, leading the room in an hour-and-a-half crescendo.


That crescendo burst open as the band began their encore. Now aided by a pair of horn players, the band tore through “Necessary Evil,” featuring solos from both horns before Nielson let rip on his guitar. On the album, the song is a slow-burning, funky pop song. But live, the band allowed it to become unrestrained, breaking it open and building it up until everyone in the venue gave in to the urge to dance. All that could go double for show closer “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” which erupted into a celebratory finale, horns blaring, rainbow lights glimmering and a whole lot of people moving and singing along.

That’s really what the show felt like — celebration. The band wasn’t there to impress anyone. When Nielson climbed up onto the speakers stacked to the side of the stage during “Stage or Screen,” it was as if he simply didn’t know any way to express the fun he was having on stage in that moment other than to climb up there and sing. There aren’t many psych bands that know how to throw a real party, but Unknown Mortal Orchestra might as well have made it their mission statement Friday night.


Email Carter Shelter at [email protected]