Indie rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO) played the Fillmore Philadelphia Friday, April 21. This show was the penultimate stop on the North American leg of their tour. Even though I had never heard of the band until a few months ago, I started listening to their music recently and was eager to hear it live. The venue was packed with dedicated fans that had clearly been following UMO for a while.
The opener, South Florida native band Seafoam Walls, started exactly at 8 p.m., playing songs from their debut album “XVI” which was released Dec. 3, 2021. Before the start of their set, the venue was half full, with a very chatty, yet lax vibe amongst the crowd. The band had very cool instruments. Josh Ewers sported a teal-bodied bass with a yellow and black pattern and Josue Vargas was on the electric drums. Lead guitarist and singer/songwriter Jayan Betrand’s red electric guitar could not be missed and Dion Kerr had a black electric guitar to accent his black shades. As they began playing, the crowd quieted down and the music seemed to capture people’s attention. Their sound felt like a blend of indie pop and hip-hop, with splashes of jazz.
UMO took the stage dressed in all black at 9:15 p.m., accompanied by a lit up yellow “V” in the background, to represent the release of UMO’s latest album, “V,” which came out on March 17. The band consists of Ruban Nielson (lead guitarist and singer), Christian Li (keys), Kody Nielson (drums) and Jake Portrait (bass). The band opened with “The Garden” from “V,” bringing up the energy in the room immediately, especially since it featured Nielson’s first killer electric guitar solo of the night.
Throughout their set, UMO played various mashups of their songs including: “From the Sun/ Secret Xtians,” “Thought Ballune/ Little Blu House” and “Necessary Evil/ Monki.” This third mashup started out with an overall darker tone, but as the energy of the song increased, the calm yellow stage lights transitioned into flashing lights and the crowd went wild. There were many moments like this one, where Nielson would switch between rocking out by himself in the corner of the stage to coming up from the edge and interacting with the crowd via electric guitar solo.
“From the Sun” and “Secret Xtians” are from their 2013 album “II” while “Thought Ballune” and “Little Blu House” are from their 2011 self-titled album, serving as quite the throwback for longtime fans. They also incorporated “Ffunny Ffrends” from the same album into their set, which put everyone in a slow groove with its mellow but catchy beat.
During the concert, I was highly impressed that UMO sounded even better live than the studio versions of their songs. Hearing the live versions made me have a greater appreciation for the band as a whole, as well as certain standout tracks such as “So Good At Being In Trouble.” That track, off “II,” was the textbook definition of smooth, with Li’s live piano contributing so much to the overall feel of the song. Other notable tracks were “Nadja” from “V” which retained the chill energy of the concert the last few tracks had created. “Layla,” from the same album, was played shortly after, with soft pink stage lights highlighting the venue. Hearing the harmonic vocals of the song live was mesmerizing and is something that everyone should get to experience.
The feigned closer of the show was title track “Multi-Love” off the 2015 album. When UMO left the stage, the crowd stayed in place radiating with energy. Soon chants of “UMO” began and lasted for a few minutes before the stage lights went off once again and the band reappeared. After playing a 15 song set, UMO launched into what was possibly the longest encore I have witnessed in my entire life: six songs. The encore included many crowd favorites that the band simply could not leave without playing such as “That Life” (“V”) and “Hunnybee” (“Sex & Food,” 2018). These two tracks are currently in their top five most popular on Spotify. It was exciting to see “That Life” live, as that was the song that truly got me interested in UMO’s music. The encore closer was “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” (“Multi-Love”). Purple and blue stage lights flashed, hyping the crowd up, as Nielson spun around with his guitar. At the end of the show, Nielson held his guitar up in the air, creating an iconic silhouette along with the other band members.
The concert ended shortly after 11 p.m. Everyone filed out of the venue and onto the streets creating a lively scene in Fishtown. UMO is insanely good live and after that show, they have gained a permanent fan. It was amazing to witness such genuine instrumental and vocal talent. I would definitely recommend catching them on their next tour and listening to their extensive discography in the meantime.
From the Sun/ Secret Xtians
Thought Ballune/ Little Blu House
Necessary Evil/ Monki
So Good at Being in Trouble
Shakedown Street (Grateful Dead cover)
Can’t Keep Checking My Phone