Downtown Manhattan was bleak and rainy Friday evening, cluttered with tourists and almost-buzzed twenty somethings grateful for the weekend. On South Street Seaport, sandwiched comfortably between pier-side dinners and a row of sailboats swaying against the current, there was a heavy boom emanating from the wooden docks. The noise expanded and shattered into shimmering guitar riffs paired with a jovial bassline. Behind the small stage, facing the industrial coastline of Brooklyn, a large rainbow cut across the expansive grayness, as if some force of nature was giving Unknown Mortal Orchestra a sign of affirmation.
In support of this summer’s Seaport Music Festival, Unknown Mortal Orchestra accompanied by Bass Drum of Death hosted this week’s concert. The New Zealand/ American psych-rock trio worked with an impressive cohesion, often straying from their studio recordings and divulging the audience with an elaborate breakdown. Singer and guitarist Ruban Nielson shuffled his feet on a collection of pedals and let his fingers dance along the frets of his neck, bassist Jake Portrait switched between vicious bass slaps and fluttery synth work on mixer boards, while drummer Riley Geare trailed the beat like a tidal wave of bass drum and crashing cymbals. It had the spontaneity of improvisation and all the messiness of rock and roll. During “Secret Xtains” the heaviness gave way to a low-tempo, Motown-influenced ballad, Nielson crooning at the crowd with an emotional conviction that can only be described as soul; singing into the sky, “I’m going to hide from the rain.”
Scampering bass and falsetto vocals introduced “How Can U Luv Me”. At this point the psychedelia became something like funk, and the crowd took the shape of a jiving, funky dancehall. But UMO saved their psych-pop single “FFunny FFriends” for the end of the set, completely relinquishing themselves to the low-fi grooviness that has makes them so irresistible.
Photos by Angel Fraden