Photos by Elif Geris
A bombastic bass and soaring guitar riffs, along with a blinding color wheel of lights, accompanied Unknown Mortal Orchestra at The Vic Theatre Thursday night. Frontman and guitarist Ruban Nielson poured a hypnotic puddle of jazz-influenced guitar riffs, as he visited with star-struck audience members, making his way to the balcony. We watched Nielson as he played his way through The Vic audience, going with one of the band’s older songs, “From The Sun,” wrapping up the introductory portion of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s set.
What began as a rocky mix of sensory overload with lights that blinded those in balcony seats, and a bass volume that sometimes overshadowed Nielson’s vocals, turned out to showcase the purity of the band’s guitar and keys.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra did not disappoint its audience, a crowd that just about packed The Vic. This set included songs that spanned from 2011 releases to present day, entertaining the crowd for a full hour and a half, which for many at the venue, was no problem even on a weeknight. In fact, a woman in front of me looked back at her counterparts, who stood behind me, and nodded, as if to say, “Yes, I’m ready to leave.” But she did not budge from the railing for the rest of the show and neither did her friends.
Fans were most excited by songs like the one the band initially welcomed us with, “Ffunny Ffriend”, the production’s midpoint off 2018 album Sex & Food “Hunnybee”, and a final encore song, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” which the audience just knew had to come on Thursday night.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra utilizes instruments that are unique to certain songs, prefacing them in a distinct way. For instance, jumps of relief came when the first trombone notes of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” traveled through the historic space.
The band worked to satisfy both those who have been with them since their self-titled album, and those who jumped on the wagon with “Multi-Love”. They displayed respect and camaraderie for those who were at their last Chicago appearance at Thalia Hall and for one another as a band. Nielson repeatedly called our attention to his bassist, Snake, for whom the audience produced a collective hiss. Nielson turned to Snake to ask if that was a Chicago thing, after which the frontman hilariously reciprocated.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra produced a psychedelic break from the normal lives of Chicago’s 9-5ers, bartenders, and retail workers. This concert was a celebration, for which the band didn’t want to lack showmanship and colorful lighting.