Live Review: Yuck + Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Varsity Theater
Due to commuting issues and a 1:45 p.m. start time, I was unable to catch one of my most anticipated sets at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, UK guitar-fuzz group Yuck. Luckily, like many of the other acts billed on the Pitchfork lineup – See: Woods, Fresh and Onlys, Thuston Moore, Kurt Vile, Fleet Foxes – Yuck had a Twin Cities date scheduled right after, or during, the festival in Chicago.
This was, by far, one of the hottest indoor concerts I’ve attended in the Cities. The Varsity Theater was only at about half capacity when I showed up for the last few songs from opener Young Man, but the venue was already at a damp and hazy 90+ degrees anywhere on the main floor. Having been a fan of Young Man’s debut EP Boy, I was kind of bummed to only catch his last few songs. On record, Chicago-based songwriter Colin Caulfield makes spacey campfire acoustic jams much a kin to Sung Tungs-era Animal Collective. Live, however, Caulfield was joined by a full band and expands his sound with whirling guitars, shuttering drums work and his signature vocal harmonies.
Next up was Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the mysterious buzz band whose newest acid-drenched self-titled LP has been one of the more talked-about albums of the past few months. After releasing their first songs on Bandcamp, UMO chose to stay true the Unknown portion of their name and went the way of Cults and Shabazz Palaces to initially remain anonymous and let the music speak for itself. This approached has been both criticized and praised (somewhat), but I personally think it draws even more curiosity out of the band’s warped psyche-rock. The band played through nearly all the songs on the new LP including favorites “Ffunny Ffriends,” “How Can You Luv Me?,” and “Thought Ballune, but they did something I’ve never seen a band do: played their entire set in the dark. No lights, at all. Whether the decision was to keep the members shrouded in mystery or to piss people off, – there were several shouts from the crowd to “Turn the lights on!” – I think it only added to the eerie and bombastic mood the band delivers. I was very pleased with their set and their live show even surpasses their strong debut.
When Yuck arrived in Minneapolis for the first time, they probably weren’t expecting to be greeted by the seventh ring of Hell. But the heat wasn’t enough to hold back the band, who had just came from Chicago’s rain forest-like conditions. They blistered through nearly all of the songs off their terrific self-titled debut as well as their newest A-side, “Milkshake.” While the band didn’t move around all that much during their set, they played extremely crisp and well rehearsed. As they ended the first song, guitarist Max Bloom announced, “This is our first time in out your fair city!” and was met with chuckles and applause. While Daniel Blumberg’s shakey vocals translated well over their walls of reverb and throwback guitar licks, he isn’t necessarily the most exuberant frontmen. The band ended their set with personal favorite “Operation,” with Bloom on lead vocals, before ending with the shimmering seven-minute album closer, “Rubber” and a wall of white noise. On record, Yuck are one of my favorite new bands, and although I enjoyed them in a live setting, I have to admit I thought their live show was going to be a bit more energetic. But, hey, I wouldn’t want to perform in a sweaty, 100 degree room either. Can’t blame ’em.
Notes: Halfway through their set, Yuck stopped to point out a crowd member that was an exact doppelganger of drummer Johnny Rogoff – Harlem Globetrotters fro and all.