Unknown Mortal Orchestra frontman Ruban Nielson may have relocated to Portland, Oregon several years ago, but his home country of New Zealand still lays claim to him, as evidenced by his band’s win of “Best Alternative Album” and nominations for “Album of the Year” and “Single of the Year” in the New Zealand Music Awards for their latest album, Multi-Love. It’s only a small part of the success story of UMO in 2015, as the release catapulted them from cult band status to the limelight in seemingly no time. That accomplishment was shown on Wednesday night in Washington, DC, as the band played their first (nearly sold-out) headlining show at the 9:30 Club after having been at the much smaller U Street Music Hall only eight months earlier.
Nielson and his band opened the show with “Like Acid Rain,” the second track from the album, and went on to play a set largely dominated by the record. While the new album itself brought Nielson’s R&B influences to the front, the band’s live performance added a jazz-fuelled element, most notable in a number of extended solos taken by each of the band members. Most notable were an extended drum solo by Riley Geare at the end of “How Can You Luv Me” and both an intro and an exit by keyboardist Quincy McCrary on “Ffunny Ffriends.” Along with these two singles (and the upbeat “Thought Ballune”) from their first album, the band also included their three single releases from their second album, “From the Sun,” “So Good at Being in Trouble,” and “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark).”
The band closed the main set out with the title track of the new album, “Multi-Love,” and then returned to the stage for an encore of the funk-inflected “Necessary Evil” and the disco-laced “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.”
Baltimore-based indie rockers Lower Dens opened the show, performing a set made up primarily of songs from their 2015 album, Escape From Evil. For this incarnation the band was a duo consisting of singer and guitarist Jana Hunter and drummer Nate Nelson, with bass and keyboard parts handled by pre-recorded backing tracks. Hunter closed the show with an a cappella rendition of “All the Best Wishes,” the opening track from her 2005 solo debut album, Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom.