Friday, February 15, 2013 at 9:45 a.m.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
In the past month, both California psychonauts Foxygen and New Zealand export Unknown Mortal Orchestra have released critically heralded albums that base their templates on the weirder, wayward side of rock and pop. Both band's albums are divergent from more standard rock fare such as music made for nights out at loud, shady dive bars, intense head banging, and three-chord-or-die punk rock. Basically, it's not a sound that you think would really translate well to an OC audience. So, it would make perfect sense then that they would book a date for their current tour at The Constellation Room then, right?
After opening act Wampire warmed things up a bit, Foxygen went up to perform. What was a duo on record suddenly became a small family on stage. It's respectable that the duo of Sam France and Jonathan Rado care enough about their live act to bring on enough members to fill up every part of a venue's stage, and a full house of musicians certainly added to the overall effect and punch of their sound. When your duo takes as many approaches as Foxygen does, having a solid live squad is essential.
Without a question, their strongest asset was Sam France, who took the reins of the role of frontman and dialed in his inner Iggy Pop in a way every hyperactive vocalist wishes they can. We don't even think he broke a sweat as he shot through his various spasms, yells, and shouts. And, his presence added a sort of unfiltered aggression not quite present on record. Even with the kaleidoscopes of noise, fuzz, and guitar riffs he managed to keep his vocal performance front and center.
By the time Foxygen finished their set, the entire Constellation Room was surprisingly (in a good way) filled out all the way to the curtains leading to the side of the Observatory. What we thought might not have been too crowded of a night ended up looking as if a buzzing local band was playing. By the time Unknown Mortal Orchestra came on, the entire place was packed and fully attentive.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra were one of those live acts that could make it feel like an actual orchestra was rampaging through a place. Though there were only three people playing away on stage, their powerful brand of spacey psychedelic rock/pop was impossible to not focus on. The music they played ranged from sing-a-long songs for hallucinogenic drug lovers and people who seek to live out the lyrical scenarios told by Juicy J to material that felt like a condensed version of smoky kraut-rock and jam band grooves. Unlike the act before them, the vocals were there more to serve as a way to call down to the vacuum hole that the rest of the music means to encapsulate listeners' ears in. They were more vapory and celestial than Foxygen's, and perfect in the setting they were in
As serious as it all sounds though, there were a lot of elements of funk strewn across the entire show. We're talking funk for FYF Fest here though, not something made for a studio session with Dr. Dre in the G-funk era. We're sure their type of thump could incite many dance circles across the festival circuit, and it's nice to have intermissions for small dance parties to break out when your riffs just spent several minutes tripping everyone out. Unknown Mortal Orchestra may not be there to specifically "cater" to anyone, but they know how to cover all aspects of a good rock show in 2013 and keep things at the opposite of stale. Last night, they covered virtually every aspect of the "indie" canon that continues to excite us.
Random Notebook Dump: Who would have guessed a venue sandwiched in between Santa Ana and Costa Mesa could become so packed for Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Foxygen?
Critic's Bias: Unknown Mortal Orchestra's II is one of my favorite records of the past few months.
The Crowd: Older, more mature, and most importantly less likely to start a fight and/or riot.