Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Gauntlet Hair @ The Crocodile, Seattle, WA 11.09.11
Every band has been there before. You're at the tail end of a long tour, and it's that middle of the week lull that happens in most cities. The room is a quarter full, and those people that are there are a bit TOO excited and have been, to put it kindly, overserved. These are the challenges facing Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Gauntlet Hair on Wednesday night at the Crocodile.
Portland's Unknown Mortal Orchestra started off their set with no announcement, no fanfare, and with a long, drawnout squall of feedback that led into a scratchy-throated version of "Little Blu House". On their self-titled record, "Little Blu House" is dreamy and delicate, gentle in all the right places; the story of a man searching for shelter from the wolves and some sense of respite. Live, it howled and yelped, less like a softly suggested "May I come in?" and more like the desperate plea of a man with nowhere else to turn frantically pulling on a door handle. Singer Ruban Nielson's delivery was almost completely disaffected, deliberately staring down the neck of the Fender Mustang that sat nearly at his collarbone rather than the audience.
Nielson's raspy delivery warmed up into the groove of "Strangers Are Strange", but the band still seemed stuck in that unfortunate combination of subdued and uptight in their delivery. While many of the gorgeous, crisp-fried layers of the band's LP were missing, it was interesting to see the trio recreating the songs live and raw; stripped of the executive control of the studio, some of those songs succeeded and some sorely lacked the lo-fi polish of looped drum machines and soaring backing vocals. The dreamy, see-sawing "Thought Ballune" showed off Nielson at his finest; writing concise, melodically shifting songs that leave room for his visionary guitar playing. Impressive without being too flashy, Nielson switched from picked strumming to finger picking a mind-bending, shit hot guitar solo during the bridge that gave the song a new, vibrant life away from the record's sheen. "Nerve Damage"showed the band at it's playfully fuzzed out, bratty best, and if you squinted your eyes and ears in juuuuust the right way, it looked and sounded like the Brian Jonestown Massacre finally got their shit together and did everything right at once. The large complaint of the evening was the set length; Unknown Mortal Orchestra actually spent more time setting up and soundchecking than they did playing. They played 7 out of the 9 songs from their LP, padding their set time with a meandering extended version of "Boy Witch" and coming back out to play a cover of Can's "Vitamin C". For a band that's headlining (and has been performing for less than a year), it would seemingly make sense to utilize the stage time to play everything they knew. Then again, playing those two extra songs on a Wednesday night in front of a room full of about 65 people (the front row being two drunken clowns who kept jumping on stage and swatting Nielson's mic stand mid-song) may very well have not been an option.
I had given opener Gauntlet Hair's new LP a spin earlier in the day, and was actually annoyed by the titanic, overblown wash of reverb that they bathed the entire record in (yes, bands, there is such a thing as TOO MUCH REVERB). Live, a lot of that giant atmospheric sprawl was toned back and the dynamics of the songs were allowed to show through. While Unknown Mortal Orchestra seemed a bit unconcerned with the crowd, Gauntlet Hair were focused and convicted in their delivery, blasting through a 30 minute set that smoothly transitioned from spastic, math-rock-y noise to baby-makin' grooves.
- Little Blu House
- Strangers Are Strange
- Thought Ballune
- Nerve Damage!
- Jello and Juggernauts
- Boy Witch
- How Can You Luv Me
- Vitamin C (Can cover)