fri 14/08/2020

Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Deerhunter, Albert Hall, Manchester review – New Zealanders and friends create festival vibe | reviews, news & interviews

Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Deerhunter, Albert Hall, Manchester review – New Zealanders and friends create festival vibe

Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Deerhunter, Albert Hall, Manchester review – New Zealanders and friends create festival vibe

Beautiful music and band-led fun dominate the night despite occasional sound issues

Singing in the sun

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s four albums all centre around off-kilter pop and flirtations with distortion; their latest LP, Sex & Food, carries this tradition forwards in a more laid-back manner. Their current European tour in support of the album seems to have lined up nicely with the schedules of American acts Deerhunter, Black Lips and Sam Evian (as well as much-hyped British act Boy Azooga), with all five artists descending on the Albert Hall in Manchester for the six-hour Strange Waves III.

Between the criminally early start time of 5pm and Transport for Manchester’s bus timetabling decisions, I unfortunately manage to miss Boy Azooga. I do, however, arrive in time to see Sam Evian take to the stage, with his band bobbing in time throughout the set like some four-headed groove monster. Drawing on country, indie, and vaporwave, Evian produces sunny music perfectly suited to the well-lit, steadily-heating-up Albert Hall and – despite finishing on perhaps the weakest song of the set – the band have made a strong impression.

The Albert Hall feels more like a main stage at a festival than an ornately-decorated venue

Next up are Atlanta’s Black Lips, who win the prize for the best dressed band of the night (mulleted singer Cole Alexander’s red cape, bassist Jared Swilley’s magnificent moustache, and leather-clad saxophonist Zumi Rosow all deserve special mentions). Unfortunately for them, their punk/rockabilly sound doesn’t translate particularly well live – noisier, busier passages of music, such as the call-and-response chorus of “O Katrina”, descend into atonality and distortion thanks to the surprisingly small speakers. That said, the calmer songs they play (like “Family Tree”) show the band at their best, and their energy throughout is unrivalled all evening. With a larger sound system, Black Lips would be unstoppable.

Deerhunter present a more reserved exterior, almost all in black, and kicking off their set with a hazy, expansive version of “Cover Me Slowly/Agoraphobia”. They manage to steer clear of the noise issues that plagued Black Lips by predominantly drawing on their more reflective tracks, including three well-received new songs. Guitarist Lockett Pundt’s voice is angelic on gig (if not career) highlight “Desire Lines”, with the descent into noise feeling cathartic in its live power. Their set culminates in the epic “He Would Have Laughed”, complete with six stage lights trained on the centre-stage singer, Bradford Cox; gone is the childish Cox who earlier joined Black Lips on stage on organ, doing his best to out-entertain the others. In his place is a messianic figure standing at the centre of beautifully crafted music.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra rest somewhere in between the two previous bands, constantly moving between ballads which come to life live, like “So Good At Being In Trouble”, and faster numbers which buckle under the speakers (most notably, first album cut “Nerve Damage”). Their energy similarly bounces between extremes: early in the set, singer Ruban Nielson bounces around the balcony, flawlessly guitar solo-ing whilst interacting with audience members; later, he takes several sit-down breaks at the back of the stage. They manage to keep the audience on side throughout though, with pop gem “Multi-Love” and recent single “Hunnybee” in particular making the crowd dance, and a three-song encore which receives the longest applause of the night.

From the sun pouring through the windows to the on-stage antics and occasional period of poor sound, the Albert Hall feels more like a main stage at a festival than an ornately-decorated venue, not that the audience – undoubtedly entertained all evening – seem to mind. 

With a larger sound system, Black Lips would be unstoppable

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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