Unknown Mortal Orchestra ignite the Fonda

Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Photo by Jordan Kleinman)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Photo by Jordan Kleinman)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra played a catalog-spanning set to a sold-out room at the Fonda Theatre on Wednesday night. Color-changing, donut-like lamps illuminated the stage, creating the perfect visual atmosphere for the New Zealand-by-way-of-Oregon psych band. Caving to the pleas of the crowd for an encore, the band returned with a horn section for a rather rambunctious rendition of “Necessary Evil” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.” The venue was shaking from concertgoers’ jumping and dancing.

If you thought UMO could get experimental in the studio, then you owe it yourself to see them perform in person. The sixth show on their 60-date tour, UMO set the tone immediately with an extended intro for “Like Acid Rain,” during which singer-guitarist Ruban Nielsen riffed on his electric sitar. Songs from all three albums were interspersed in the set, and instrumental jams were spread evenly across. Notably, some shredding on Nielsen’s behalf taking place during “From The Sun” and into “How Can You Luv Me,” where drummer Riley Geare resembled Animal and banged out a solo that held a candle to Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick.” After pleasing long-time listeners with the deep track “Bicycle,” things slowed down for “The World Is Crowded,” where the crowd swayed and sang along.

For those new to UMO, the band recently added a fourth member, keyboardist Quincy McRary, who had many shining moments, including a jaw-dropping synth solo during an extended “So Good At Being In Trouble.” The crowd erupted with joy when Nielsen began the unmistakable intro for “Swim And Sleep (Like a Shark).”

Nielsen set his guitar down and crooned to the crowd for “Stage or Screen,” grabbing hands as he paced the rail. The song finished with a smoky-jazz breakdown from McRary, who, in the midst of flying his hands across the keys, hinted the melody for the band’s breakout single “FFunny FFriends,” for which the lights returned and the and the band joined in, closing out with another piano solo right into third album title-track, “‘Multi-Love.” The audience joined in the band’s chorus, and the room suddenly turned into a party. The crowd needed more as the band had left the stage, leaving behind the droning of amplifier feedback and cheers for an encore. This is a band that needs a live album to tide fans over, as it will likely be a while until Nielsen returns to the studio.

Despite technical difficulties, Baltimore’s Lower Dens kicked things off with their anthemic dream-punk. Singer/guitarist Jana Hunter played only with drummer Abram Sanders, commenting “we usually play with more people, but, we ate them, so really, we are all still here.” The duo, accompanied by backing tracks, played a set heavily comprised of songs from their 2015 album “Escape From Evil,” though at one point bringing out tracks from past albums “Nootropics” and “Brains / Propagation.”