Last Night: Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Fitzgerald's

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Foxygen Fitzgerald's February 22, 2013

It took a good 20 minutes, but finally the lights went red (just like the last time they were here) and Unknown Mortal Orchestra slithered to the stage. Front man Ruban Nielson was ominous in a black leather skullcap and what I believe was a delightfully embroidered Satanic robe. The band launched right into "Little Blue House" from their self-titled first album, and the crowd seemed locked into a trance.

The math major to my left asked, "Are you a writer?" His friend bent around the column he was holding up to inform me, "It's a dance party! You write that down!"

It wasn't. I can't lie. It was a cult initiation. The air was stung by the familiar piney scent of burning ritual herbs. Faces locked in dazed appreciation, bodies warily swaying in the ebbs and flows of sonic absorption. Locked in a tight groove, we all glided together into the opening riffs of "Thought Ballune."

Now. Now it was a dance party.

Making his first attempt at eye contact of the night, Nielson announced that the band was "too sober" and needed "tequila with orange juice." Do they not have Tequila Sunrises in New Zealand? I didn't have time to find an answer; we were hopping on their "Bicycle" and we were off.

We didn't realize it at the time, but "How Can U Luv Me" would be the last stop for happiness until near the end of the set.

We had been hopping and shaking and doing the "white man's private Phish skank" with not a care. But Ruban Nielson is a man with troubles, and he wants to share them with you.

"Faded in the Morning" is the first track on the setlist from their second album, II, and in keeping with the album's tone, it lurches and looms like a black cloud acid trip.

"Haters with their hearts asunder will ruin our parade," and if it weren't for the tight rhythms to pull us through, they just might.

The dark turn the music has taken has affected the crowd around me. A rowdy drunk does that thing where he slams his beer bottle onto his friend's. She screams, and I swing my camera away from the splash. UMO plunges into "No Need for a Leader". It. Is. Anarchy.

Between songs, the drunk fella insists, "No, my mind is not for rent to any god or government." I've gotta admit, I agree.

The recorded version of "No Need" does sound a bit like "Tom Sawyer," but live, it's more of a Sabbath jam. Either way, we're on a highway to hell right now. But we gloom on through "Strangers Are Strange," "Jello and Juggernauts" and "Monki."

Now Drunkie is onto something else, "He got! MOJO EYEBALL! HE GOT..."

I know, Ruban, "Isolation can put a gun in your hand," but so can a guy butchering Beatles lyrics. "From the Sun" is unapologetically a John Lennon love letter. I'm pretty sure John would want me to forgive people whose entire knowledge of his catalog comes from dorm room posters and downloads, so I do.

After all, I have "So Good at Being in Trouble" to look forward to.

I remove myself from the sardine section to get a beer, and stand back as UMO ends the Willy Wonka boat ride of psychedelidrama and goes back to the happier songs from the first album. We get "FFunny Friends," the song that started it all, "Boy Witch" and a special little encore of the shredder "Nerve Damage."

Unfortunately, I had missed show openers Wampire, since parking was a nightmare. But I made it through the slow-moving line just in time to hear the opening strains of Foxygen's "On Blue Mountain."

Goddamn. Their second album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, is hands down my favorite album of 2013 so far, and "On Blue Mountain" is my favorite track. It's a pastiche of about 20 different songs, including "Suspicious Minds," arguably Elvis Presley's best song.

Nothing makes me feel better about the future than architecture students and young musicians with refined tastes. The core duo of Foxygen, Jonathan Rado and Sam France have taste in spades. "No Destruction" is "Dead Roses" from some parallel universe where the Strokes' Julian Casablancas is the singer for the Rolling Stones, but I'm pretty sure they've both "smoked pot in the subway."

My delays cost me the opportunity to catch the knock-off Belle & Sebastian tweeness of "San Francisco," and I admit, it hurts. But the pure rock fury of the live performance of their sophomore release's title track was a pretty decent payback. France took to the skies, vaulting into the crowd, stirring up the overstuffed danced floor.

He thanked the packed room for "Rockin' out to the 80's nite...in our minds," but he should have asked everyone to stick around, since the audience thinned out by about half after their set.

Personal Bias: I wouldn't have missed this show either way.

The Crowd: Pretty square college types. Lots of tidy haircuts and plaid shirts, with some striped-shirt tails peeking out from under Seinfeld leather jackets. A lot of girls rockin' a Debbie Harry from the neck down, but L7 on top (it was disconcerting).

Overheard in the Crowd: A winning argument: "They weren't twins. They weren't Thompsons. There were three of them. One was black."

Girls' night in: Girl 1 -- "I thought you had the drugs!" Girl 2 -- "I said I wanted drugs!" Girl 3 -- (Unable to free herself from the stall) "LET ME OUT! I'M DYING!"

I also heard a member of Foxygen talking about writing a Curtis Mayfield (or was it Marvin Gaye?) style song on a dare, confirming my suspicions that they steal bits and pieces of pre-existing songs and create a beautiful collage.

Random Notebook Dump: I was fascinated with the dancing. It was all very self-contained with little leg movement. In particular, there was the "marching in place guy." He pretty much summed up what the typical dance moves were like: an autistic person voguing at a Sublime (with Rome!) concert.

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