RECAP: Unknown Mortal Orchestra w/ Foxygen @ One Eyed Jack’s, New Orleans 2/22/13

On a stormy Friday in the French Quarter, New Orleans’ young and hip packed into One Eyed Jack’s for an evening of delightfully unique music that was worlds away from the funk cover bands nearby on Bourbon Street. The sellout crowd seemed mostly concerned with current buzz band Foxygen, leaving the floor less crowded by the time Unknown Mortal Orchestra hit the stage. Too bad the hipsters didn’t stick around to see what a real rock performance looks like, since UMO absolutely killed it.

Wampire kicked off the evening with tight, bouncy songs that sounded like low-fi garage rock circa 1986. Wampire hail from Portland (UMO’s hometown) and got some production assistance from UMO’s bassist on their debut album, Curiosity. After a quick, but memorable set, Wampire cleared the stage as the Foxygen fans pushed up front.

After a glowing review from Pitchfork for their latest album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen has been at the center of blog buzz for the past month. On record, the band expertly crafts a tapestry of vintage sounds with lyrics and vocals that skirt the dangerously thin line between homage and imitation of their classic rock heroes. Onstage, the band’s late 60’s sound suffered slightly as a mountain of reverb attempted to disguise the sub-par lead vocals, forcing the crack touring band to carry the momentum of the record. Notably missing from the set were standout tracks “In the Darkness” and “No Destruction,” with the band relying on lesser tracks like “San Francisco” and “on Blue Mountain” to carry the set. There were times when the Mick Jagger phrasing became intolerable (since when is it OK to rip the EXACT “woo woo” from “Sympathy for the Devil?!”), but a healthy amount of guitar freak outs narrowly saved the performance.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage with no introduction and proceeded to rip into “Little Blu House” with a fury only hinted at on the studio version. The band barely stopped playing for the next ninety minutes as singer/guitarist/songwriter Ruban Nielson led the trio through a mix of songs from the band’s debut and their outstanding recent release, II. This is a band that knows exactly what sound they are looking for, and nail it on every song. The seemingly endless supply of melodic guitar lines guided the fuzzy bass and propulsive drums to explorations of the outer limits of rock, while lines like “I’m so lonely but I can never quite reach the phone” kept the music firmly grounded.

Late in the set, UMO busted out the first three songs from II with effortless transitions that ensured a packed merch table at the end of the show. “Ffunny Ffriends” got the most cheers of the night, reminding everyone why the blogosphere was so mystified with this track upon its release nearly three years ago, and the band seemed reluctant to wrap up the set when it came time to call it. As the band walked off stage and the dust settled, the rock faithful who stuck around for the entire show emptied out into the pouring rain with their ears ringing, eager for the next time UMO comes through town.