KEXP at SXSW 2013, Day One: Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Photos by Dave Lichterman

Over the past few years, we’ve heard an R&B and soul music revival bubbling up from within everything from electronic to rock – and on the psychedelic end of that revival comes Unknown Mortal Orchestra. First grabbing attention in 2010 with an anonymously posted track “Ffunny Ffrends” as the project of New Zealand native Ruban Nielson, the Portland, OR, based band has just released their second album, aptly titled II, on Jaguarguar to acclaim on Pitchfork and landing them on several SXSW 2013 must see lists. In 2011, we brought them out to the Doug Fir Lounge during Music Fest Northwest for a mesmerizing performance, and this year we just had to have them again for our SXSW shows. There’s a mellow laziness to the shimmering guitar and cymbal-heavy drums to balance the madness of SXSW that made Unknown Mortal Orchestra a perfect fit for a late afternoon doldrums of Austin.

The house was packed early at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop in heavy anticipation, with fans staking their ground for the audio onslaught about to come. Nielsen, bassist Jake Portrait and drummer Riley Geare launched into Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark) with an unassuming look of the guys next door. But their sound was reminiscent of psychedelic and jangly influences, bringing to mind the heavy bass grooves of XTC alter-ego Dukes of the Stratosphere and noodling, textured guitar of both Modest Mouse and contemporaries Tame Impala. But half-way through their set, they pounded out an impassioned cover of Jay Reatard’s “My Shadow,” and kept up the pace for the rest of the set. They ended on a high note with So Good at Being In Trouble, to the delight of their adoring fans, washing over to refresh them as a fitting send-off to the to the next SXSW adventure.

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