We all know the story: Some dude records an album in a basement, garners considerable Internet attention, tries to perform live, and totally blows it. Fortunately for the audience at the Rickshaw Stop on Thursday night, Unknown Mortal Orchestra is a bold exception to this emerging parable in modern music.
The band has played here several times already this year, and I’d heard nothing short of glowing reviews. Still, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how successfully its tracks would translate to the stage. The hazy, cracked psych-pop tunes dreamed up by Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s progenitor Ruban Nielson blossomed and came to life with help from bandmates Jacob Portrait and Julien Ehrlich.
Portrait’s steady basslines provided the backbone to the band’s live set. Young Ehrlich took Neilson's beats to new heights with playful and dynamic percussion. What impressed me most, however, was Nielson’s trippy, psychedelic guitar wizardry. Although it runs throughout the band’s debut album, I’d somehow overlooked the crazy talent Nielson fostered through years playing in his previous band the Mint Chicks.
During opener “Little Blu House," Nielson hunched down into the swirling layer of onstage fog and did some serious solo shredding. These face-melting moments became the highlight of each song thereafter, especially on “Thought Ballune” and breakout track “Ffunny Ffriends.” Additional weirdness came courtesy of Nielson’s super fancy microphone filtering his voice into a fuzzy, scratchy warble.
Maybe it was the rain, but the crowd seemed oddly stoic on Thursday night. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s set warranted far more noodling than I witnessed at the Rickshaw Stop.
Opener: Denver, Colo., outfit Gauntlet Hair was a little down on its luck. The group’s first visit to California was plagued with rain, and leader Andy R. broke a guitar string during its first song. Despite minor setbacks, this flannel-clad foursome held it down for the Northwest with lots of shimmering guitars and Animal Collective-esque yelping, chant-like vocals. Drummer Craig Nice stole the show, inflicting a wild beating on a combination of acoustic and electronic drums.
If you missed it Thursday, both bands play New Parish this week:
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
With Gauntlet Hair
Nov. 7, 9 p.m., $8-10
The New Parish
579 18th St., Oakland