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Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA – April 28, 2018 (A

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA – April 28, 2018 – Photo by Shana Bergmann © 2018

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA – April 28, 2018

People of all ages packed into Philadelphia’s Union Transfer this past Saturday night, welcoming New Zealand’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The band is on tour following the release of their fourth studio album, Sex and Food.

Upon entrance at the venue, one was overcome with pink light. The stage, clad in fake fur rugs, vinyl, and a wall of glowing pink plants, set the tone for a laid-back night of psychedelic rock. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Ruban Nielson would grace the stage with his brother Kody Nielson on drums, Jake Portrait on bass, and Thomas Mabus on the keyboard.

The show started with Kyle Molleson, known as the Scottish producer Makeness. He had a classic electric guitar, a laptop (featuring smashed screen), and all kinds of effects pedals. Amidst a web of mixer effects and drum pads, Makeness played an interesting blend of grunge dance and indie rock. Looking around, the crowd was eager to loosen up and heads started to bob.

During the short down time between sets, it was hard to look past the array of instruments waiting to be picked up by UMO. The bassist had two Rickenbacker basses waiting for him, while Ruban Nielson paid tribute to classic rock with at least three different Fender guitars. The drummer had minimalist set up, as well as the keyboardist. There was, however, a saxophone. A few voices in the crowd questioned it. Before anyone could decide who would play the sax and when it would be used, UMO graced the stage of Union Transfer. Ruban Nielson greeted the audience wearing a “Philadelphia Est. 1776” hat.

The first song played was “Necessary Evil,” a track off their third studio album Multi-Love. Unfazed and happy to be hearing older songs, the crowd sang along in awe. With every riff, there was a new chord or tempo change. Nielson employed arrangements not previously heard by fans. Barely ten minutes into the set, Ruban Nielson proceeded to step off the stage and onto the barricade while playing a solo for “Swim and Sleep like a Shark.” The crowd lost their minds and knew they were in for a show flaunting instrumental genius.

It wasn’t until the fourth song that tunes off their latest album began to flow. Sex & Food is Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s most politically conscious album. As UMO dished out, “Ministry of Alienation,” I could feel empathy radiate from the crowd as everyone sang, “My thinking is done by your machine, can’t escape the 20th century.”

Their distinctive use of sing-along R&B melodies paired with low-fi psychedelic effects put the audience into a trance. But, before anyone could get comfortable, a jaw-dropping guitar solo was almost always around the corner; tastefully paired with thought-provoking lyrics from “A God Called Hubris,” “Major League Chemicals,” and “American Guilt.” The show came to a conclusion with Nielson jumping into the crowd for an acoustic version of, “Not in Love We’re Just High.”

Escorted back on to the stage, Nielson rejoined the band and gave a subtle thank you as his group proceeded back stage. The crowd did not stop dancing or cheering, and this continued until UMO reappeared for their encore. “Ffunny Ffriends” blessed the ears of those listening, employing all of UMO’s famous techniques of electronic rock. Finally, Nielson grabbed the saxophone for a striking minute-long solo to end the night on a tasteful note. There is no doubt Unknown Mortal Orchestra left a lasting impression for those feeling nostalgic and awfully groovy.

Shana Bergmann

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: May 1, 2018.

Photos by Shana Bergmann © 2018

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