REVIEW: Unknown Mortal Orchestra + Nick Allbrook @ The Astor Lounge

Reviewed by: Drew Krapljanov

Live performance and a Recording of an Artist or Group are two completely different expressions and portraits of music. When going to see a performance, a majority of the audience will undoubtedly compare the two and may very well expect the band to similar on record to what they do in a live performance. The big factor that separates these two formats is that a Live Performance is ephemeral and completely unique while a Recording or Album is a frozen portrait in time, representing a singular moment in time and can be constantly revisited.

With this in mind, the lack of the colourful elements from his studio recordings, Nick Allbrook’s subverted takes on his existing material was chaotic, energetic and engaging. Nick Allbrook’s crazed, flamboyant stage presence managed to lure a reasonable crowd that were surprisingly receptive of the songwriter’s eccentric performance.

The set’s introductory track felt like a Frankenstein Creature coming to life with a booming hardcore hip hop styled groove, warped vocal samples and crazed, screeching guitar work reminiscent of the oddball popstar Prince. The following track felt a continuation of the introduction’s outright strangeness and lumbered slowly with a minimal electronic drum groove, chaotic guitar freakouts that ended far too quickly to be memorable and were too self-indulgent to be engaging.

                                                  Photography: Leah Toyne

As the set progressed, Nick Allbrook’s versatile musicianship began to shine, shifting between bizarre electronic onslaughts to dramatic and dreamy ballads and even playing a flute for a song that could have been taken from Pink Floyd’s the Wall. A particular set highlight was The Allbrook/Avery sour ballad ‘The Man’s Not Me’ that popped up in the middle of the set and showcased his unique voice and his direct, sardonic lyricism.

Even with his moments of self-indulgence, and the absence of a backing band to help bring his lush production elements to a live setting, Nick Allbrook was undeniably an engaging performer and managed to successfully give his audience an unexpected and surreal performance.

                                                                      Photography: Leah Toyne

After a 30-minute interval, Unknown Mortal Orchestra took to the stage through a dense wall of fog. The band kicked things with the peppy Stevie Wonder styled ‘Like Acid Rain’ off their latest album, Mutli-Love. It was apparent immediately that the band’s live show would be a more ferocious beast than their lo-fi studio recordings, as  the band leaned towards a cleaner, slicker sound that worked in favour with the soulful, RnB ear candy of Multi-Love.

However, the fiery and incredible synchronicity of Unknown Mortal Orchestra was undermined by the tendency to dabble in self-indulgent, elongated jam sections. While this heightened the energy in songs such as the Reggae bouncer ‘Into the Sun’ and the ferocious Prince onslaught ‘Ur Life One Night’, it undermined the succinct song-writing brilliance of their studio material.

Another issue that gradually made itself apparent through out the night was the sound issues between the lead guitarist and the session keyboardist. The keyboardist’s smooth and punchy playing style was hindered by the overtly aggressive live sound coming through the front-of-house and the guitarist’s oversaturated amplifier distortion removed all the intricate and subtle elements of his performance. The excellent ‘Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)’ and the subdued ‘Multi-Love’ felt underwhelming due to the overwhelming intensity of the live sound.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s overall performance was exciting, energetic yet flawed and chaotic. While the band’s excellent musicianship and ferocious and versatile live energy persuaded the audience into a disco inferno, the lack of restraint throughout the marathon jam sections and the overwhelming live sound hindered an otherwise great show from the New Zealand/American trio.