Nothing short of spectacular
Connor Willis
13:02 23rd November 2018

It’s almost halfway in to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s set, the four-piece are merely figures in a heavy mist of smoke and the crowd are applauding louder than they have been for the last 35 minutes or so. Maybe because it’s the first time during the show that, frontman, Ruban Nielson, has taken time out of the psychedelic experience to reflect upon the building he is performing in, and the 5,000 people stood in front of him. “I didn’t think this was going to happen.” By this point, we’re all putty in the hands of four dexterous instrumentalists and performers. Tonight, it’s his brother, father and old friend on stage with him; and it’s tonight they take the spotlight as much as the face of the Portland band. 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra immediately set the opening tone of the show with a moody, yet intricate, and extended, version of ‘From The Sun’. Delicacy aplenty, the easing tones are quickly ripped from the crowd and swapped with piercing shredding noises as Nielson works his way through the crowd to take a shot, and then continues to appear on various balconies around the Royal Albert Hall  holding the emotion of the unknown deep within the minds of every audience member. Distortion playing a key part, their biggest London show to date is climactic within the first five minutes and fails to ease, with the Nielson family holding a firm grasp on the effortlessly stunning instrumentals which glide between the opening songs, as they make their way through the first three albums in four songs. 

It’s with ‘Ministry of Alienation’ that we begin to see a dwindling sense of euphoria within the musicians, turning, and guiding, each other through a sensual journey showcasing variegated sounds from around the world - notably paying a small tribute to the Nielson’s links to New Zealand and Hawaii. Continuing to thrust their way through the hits, it would be reckless to assume that playing at one of London’s most prestigious venues was just a ploy to increase their popularity. Clearly understanding what the venue is about, and what history it holds, Unknown Mortal Orchestra use the acoustics of the room to emphasise the brass instruments, allowing for solos which hand over a sensory overload to the audience, whilst saving room for groove-inspired bass lines and drumming so stylish it moved from jazz to rock in a matter of seconds. 

After the fatal uproar of ‘American Guilt’ turns the room to a pulp, you would be forgiven for thinking the main man of the quartet would need to give his frictionless vocals a rest, but not before the velvety tones of ‘Multi-Love’ gush through to an audibly stunned audience who aren’t ready to unwrap themselves from the blanket that has been created, unaware that the next 15 minutes were about to take a change of tone. A small orchestra rises up in the skies, stood in front of the venue’s breathtaking organ, ready to welcome ‘Hunnybee’ with a formidable entrance. Arising from their seats, the audience land safely in to the next, and final, world thrown at them. It’s fuelled by funk associated tones but presents itself in a genre-spanning song, exploring the hidden depths of rock, jazz, instrumentals and more. It quickly becomes ironic that as the final song starts of ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’ starts to ease in, suddenly mobiles are no longer seen around the room, allowing arms to be raised and moments to be embraced. 

Tonight was all about Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and it was nothing short of spectacular. Feeling like a greatest hits set, the momentous gig was a showcase in the genius moves the quartet make to introduce genre collision and mood controlling noise to an awe-inspired crowd. This was a moment for the band, who passed the moment on to the audience and allowed them to feel something unexplainable and experience emotion in a way that many may have not experienced before. The crowd surfs, the jamming and the hanging foliage; Unknown Mortal Orchestra were the perfect band to introduce the people of the Royal Albert Hall to something incredibly inspiring.

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Photo: Anna Smith