The other night we went to Fitzgerald's to check out Portland-based Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Their recorded work is solid - restrained, lo fi production of catchy riffs in airy expanses, packaged in tight digestible nuggets.
A sound like that, though, while quite appealing on record, is difficult to reproduce live, I think. Downstairs at Fitzgerald's, it's almost impossible. As Ra Ra Riot rocked upstairs, UMO tried to bring the noise to a stage that normally hosts local nu metal and talent-free punk outfits - acts that don't rely on the tender nuances of soundscapes to get their point across. In a more controlled setting, this could have been a decent show. In practice, it was just too loud.
Not that they were going for quiet, exactly. While lead man Ruban Nielson, decked out in a black skull cap and some sort of be-rosed bullfighter cloak, sung on a heavily reverbed mic, drummer Riley Geare made full use of his substantial kit. I'm usually a fan of aggressive drumming, but Geare tends to overplay and goes a bit overboard on the butt rock fills. The songs where he is the most restrained, playing a steady supportive beat, are unquestionably the strongest. Nielson, lathered up by the constant "tequila and orange juice" he kept ordering from the stage, sang his quirky melodies well and showed nimbleness on his delicate guitar riffs, but too often the drums overwhelmed.
Maybe I'm just getting old and am less tolerant of "loud" music. But I maintain, I don't mind loud if it sounds good. I wouldn't mind seeing UMO in another setting. Their fan base seems robust, judging by the capacity crowd and oozing excitement at some of the hits. But I think my days of seeing shows downstairs at Fitzgerald's might be numbered.
(Sadly, my half-asses attempt at a photo did not turn out well enough to display here. The Houston Press has a review (a much different take than mine) and a photo, if you care. And here is someone else's YouTube video from the show.)