Unknown Mortal Orchestra @ SWG3, Glasgow, 26 Nov

Unknown Mortal Orchestra's vibrant set at SWG3 sees the band go Super Saiyan, for better and worse

Live Review by Alexander Smail | 04 Dec 2018
  • Liverpool Sound City 2015, 22-24 May - Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Bathed in fluorescent red light, and beneath hanging ivy, Unknown Mortal Orchestra make their entrance at SWG3 with a particularly upbeat rendition of From the Sun. It sets the tone for the rest of their set – one that, for better and worse, sees the band go Super Saiyan. An explanation for the unexpected shift in gear comes a few moments later: "This is the last show of the year," frontman Ruban Nielson reveals once the song ends, holding up his drink, "so it’s a bit of a celebration."

There’s enough of a dichotomy between the band’s more mellow, lo-fi early material and the vibrant psychedelic pop and funk of newer releases Multi-Love and Sex & Food – not to mention raw, abrasive instrumental album IC-01 Hanoi released in October – that any live set is destined to face an uphill battle to bring it all together smoothly.

Their solution, to just crank everything up to 11, is effective for the most part. Sedative fan-favourites Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark) and So Good at Being in Trouble are given new life as they’re charged up with chugging beats, while blistering Sex & Food lead single American Guilt becomes the headbanger it was born to be. 

Unfortunately, juicing up every song with a jolt of electricity doesn’t always work. Not in Love We’re Just High is intimate and restrained on record, but here the band attempt to contort it into an anthem, complete with audience sing-along and a crowdsurf from Nielson. Even more tragic is Hunnybee. The best song on Sex & Food, and arguably one of the best of the year, it’s almost unrecognisable as a crunchy guitar and stomping drums suffocate the track’s gentle sweetness.

Even in these discordant moments, it’s never less than a joy watching the incredible technical skill on display from the band. They tend to let tracks wander, and the audience are more than happy to let Nielson and co. warp a song into an extended instrumental break. Often the set is at its best in these amorphous lulls between songs. Chandler Bing said it best, though: "Gloria Estefan was right – eventually the rhythm is going to get you."