Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Friday the 13th show had Stubb’s in Austin buzzing like the dozens of tattoo shops around town. Touring in support of their 2018 album Sex & Food, the Ruban Nielson-led New Zealand psych rock band worked up and down their growing catalog during that sultry Texas evening with nary a breeze to be felt. After a rocking performance by opener Shamir that vascilated between soothing and grating (QRO photos), and what felt like an eternity waiting in the demoralizing heat between sets, Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage.
Kicking things off was “From the Sun”, a tune from the 2013 album II that showcases Nielson’s heavy finger guitar sliding and soulful voice on top of his brother Kody’s pounding drums, which sounded nice and punchy in the outdoor venue. As the song got jammy near the end, Ruban exited stage right with his guitar and through a side tunnel to suddenly emerge at the back of the crowd giving fans an up and close view of his guitar virtuosity.
With nearly an identical setlist as their previous shows, the band performed about half of the new album, followed by fan favorites including “Ffunny Ffriends”, the song which launched Ruban out of obscurity and into the limelight nearly overnight in 2010, the satisfyingly dark song “Necessary Evil” from 2015’s Multi-Love, and the sweet ballad “So Good at Being in Trouble” that had the crowd singing along. Towards the middle of the set, the energy started peaking as Neilson shred through more hard rocking songs, such as “American Guilt” from Sex & Food and “Nerve Damage” the 2011 self-titled album (QRO review).
Closing out their set was the synthy track “Multi-Love”, a song whose lyrics resonate with the Austin crowd because of the passage, “She wants to bury me in Austin under Uchiko,” a nod to one of Austin’s hippest Japanese restaurants. Making up for their 15 minute delay coming on stage in the beginning, the band graced the crowd with not one, but two encores, which has been rare on this tour. Disco-flavored tunes “Hunnybee” and “Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays” from their new album gave the crowd a chance to tap into their reserves for one last boogie. Wrapping up with another dance tune, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”, the crowd began to exit the venue when all of the sudden the band came back out.
For some reason there is resurgence of interest in the ‘70s experimental rock band CAN who, for the most part, have languished in obscurity for nearly 40 years. Nowaday people can’t get enough of them and Unknown Mortal Orchestra took time to cover the 1972 song “Vitamin C” from the album Ege Bamyasi. The band’s spirited rendition of the song came as a welcomed surprise to the fans that were still in the venue. Ruban even came out into the crowd one last time as they extended the jam. Unknown Mortal Orchestra continues their tour out west in July before several European dates in August.