By Corinne Osnos | April 22, 2023
The crowd bobbed like sea anemones. It was a sold-out show, the last of psychedelic rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s four-day stint at Webster Hall.
Revelers got there early to hear opener Seafoam Walls’ “Caribbean jazzgaze” sound inspired by the band’s founder Jayan Bertrand’s Haitian roots. “The only thing that’s definite is that we’re not infinite,” Bertrand croons over chillwave guitar on tracks like “Dependency” and “You Can’t Have Your Cake and Ego Too (Happy Birthday)” from their 2021 album, XVi. Planned or not, the two acts gelled, their sets complementing one another nicely. Both specialize in layering ethereal instrumentation over corporeal lyrics.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage after 9 p.m., mixing classic hits with their latest discography, including tracks from their 2023 album, V. A standout moment of the evening’s performance was “Nadja,” performed for the first time during this tour.
Found a strand of your hair and ate it
Couldn’t throw away this thing you left behind.”
Every guitar solo was acutely felt; every lyric illustrated in real time like reverse pictionary. Non-monagamy is a theme the band doesn’t shy away from. Their 2015 album, Multi-Love, explores complex emotions born from a polyamorous relationship, delivering unflinchingly honest lyrics (“It’s not that this song’s about her / All songs are about her…Fearing new kinds of mind control and just blaming each other”). One of the best moments of the show occurred during the encore, as the band transitioned from drum-heavy “That Life” into lo-fi “Hunnybee.” Sharp piano notes flirted with the eponymous lyrics of the chorus, drawing out hunnybee into six syllables (hu uh ah ne be ee). Crowd favorites like “So Good at Being in Trouble” and “Necessary Evil” drew animated responses from the crowd. “Thank you for letting us play the old stuff,” frontman Ruban Nielson told the crowd halfway through the set. Part of the appeal of UMO’s music is how one song blends into the next, while the lyrics play with paramount themes of family, abandonment and codependency; indescribable feelings like that of where do you end and where do I begin?. It was a night that you could as easily remember as forget.
📸: shot by Sarah Schneider