Live Review: Liars + Unknown Mortal Orchestra at First Avenue
For the modest crowd that gathered at First Avenue Tuesday night, there was an exercise in knowing your boundaries. One band on the bill has proven adept at creating compelling, catchy songs on record, songs that are good to get a little boogie on to, but seemed to purposely muck up their sound. The other band creates a more murky sound on record, but seemed to make an effort to really whip the crowd into a frenzy and let the sweaty masses shake off some of the mid-week rust.
The former description above is speaking to the 45 minute set by the band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The group are still touring behind their excellent debut LP, which features spry indie rock with a slight funk groove. After seeing the band play a spirited set a while back opening for Toro Y Moi, I really thought they would take full opportunity of their set opening up for Liars on their current tour. Unfortunately the band decided to muddy up their sound in a way that really stripped the life out of the tracks (there was debate whether the muddy sound was intentional or not—I was of the camp that it was intentional). Even on album standouts like “ffunny friends” and “How Can You Luv Me,” the extra layers of fuzz only served to bog down the bands usually buoyant sound. Walking in, I would have assumed Liars would be more hypnotic and wrapped in noise and UMO would get the crowd moving, but it didn’t work out that way. While I enjoyed the thundering intro song that was a powerful fuzz-kraut jam, the more fuzzy sound didn’t do the bands recorded material any favors and left the crowd less than enthusiastic about the groups set.
The three piece Liars brought a darker, more obtuse sound to the table, but their churning grooves actually got the crowd moving more than their openers. Playing material off their new opaque, ambient based LP WIXIW, the band played an engaging set that focused on their new material but made sure to insert some of their diverse back catalog. The new material was given a stirring pulse, with the three piece rotating between samplers, guitar, bass and drums. While the new material was powerful and heavy live, it was older songs like “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant,” which found entertaining frontman Angus Andrew pointing and shooting at the crowd while singing “Why’d you shoot the man with a gun?” that really got the crowd moving. The bands nearly 70 minute set had very few lulls and was a testament to the wide ranging material the group has been consistently putting together over the last decade.
Listening to the debut LP from Unknown Mortal Orchestra and the latest (excellent) LP from Liars, I wouldn’t have guessed that Liars would be the ones that were the more energetic and engaging of the two on Tuesday night, but that was the case hands down. While UMO sludged up their sound and seemed to run from the style that originally drew attention to them, Liars just put their heads down and played an infectious and powerful set. The results went to show that, even if you are playing darker, more ambient material a live crowd appreciates being thrown a bone in the form of a locked in groove. Liars seemed to understand this much more than UMO, which resulted in their set being significantly more entertaining and proving why they have locked down the headlining slot on this tour.
See Jon’s photos HERE