Unknown Mortal Orchestra at the Hotel Congress, Tucson, Arizona, February 17, 2013. Photo by Joshua P. Fowler.
The billing of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Foxygen, and Wampire made perfect sense not only because they are labelmates under indie label Jagjaguwar, but because they all have distinctive takes on a similar psychedelic sound. The irony of what was billed as the official after party to The xx concert that took place in the Rialto Theater was that the party started and mostly ended before The xx crowd had made its way over to Hotel Congress.
Wampire started the show strong, warming the few early comers. Their songs were synth and bass-laden without losing the guitar driven rock feel. The music fit well with the bands that followed and it is no surprise that their upcoming album Curiosity (to be released in May) was produced by Unknown Mortal Orchestra bassist Jacob Portrait. By the end of their set, the crowd had left their seats along the bar and were dancing and enjoying the show from the floor.
The real party started when Foxygen took the stage. The set started with instrumental “Bowling Trophies” and it was quickly apparent that vocalist Sam France was the emotional leader and conductor of the band. He would prance, run and jump around the stage sometimes yelling and sometimes whispering the lyrics. There was a manic aspect of his performance between strength and fragility, sometimes in the same song or even same lyric. The audience later learned the fragility may have been aided by the stomach flu that France said he was suffering from later in the show. Foxygen pleased the crowd by playing seven of the nine tracks of their fantastic new album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic. They faithfully recreated the songs to the degree that would please the crowd while remaining loose and exciting throughout the show. The set closed with album closer “Oh No” which was extended into a spacey jam session. Just after Foxygen left the stage, the crowd from The xx concert started trickling in–but much of the crowd at Hotel Congress started leaving.
As Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage the room was about half full and seemed more in the mood for a chill-out show than a party. Fortunately Unknown Mortal Orchestra was of the same mind and was happy to play their brand of spaced out psychedelia. The rhythm section of Jake Portrait on bass and Riley Geare on drums were the driving force of the show by complimenting singer/guitarist Ruban Nielson with rhythms that often dripped with Mo-town Soul. The lyrics and guitar playing were more indicative of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Unknown Mortal Orchestra switched between playing songs off their two albums playing about seven off each and the crowd seemed to be more familiar with those off the self-titled release from 2011. That said, many of the highlights came from the recent release II, including album and show opener “From the Sun” and one of the few true rockers of the set, “No Need for A Leader”.
Altogether this show was a perfect billing for a Sunday night concert. Wampire woke up the crowd, Foxygen brought the party, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra gave a relaxing space out show that one could enjoy but still make it to work on Monday morning.