Unknown Mortal Orchestra played The Fillmore in San Francisco on Thursday with jam-band tendencies that would make any Deadhead in Berkeley over the weekend jealous. The simple stage aesthetic of hanging album art in the background from their upcoming acoustic “Blue Record” EP and frontman Ruban Nielson’s priest-like poncho evoked a minimalism of visuals that lent itself to the display of music — a notion bolstered by the fact that there was more décor (as well as use value) in the pedal boards.
The band led “From the Sun” with a progression from a sweet chorus-filled ballad to a distortion-heavy guitar solo, which felt potent and organic. But given that this was only the second song of the set, one had to wonder if it was too early to climax — especially when this pattern continued for the rest of the show.
Almost half of the set developed into psychedelic meanderings of improvisation. Tightly structured morsels on recordings unraveled into sprawling feats of sound onstage. At certain points the soloing felt redundant — a sentiment that was only heightened when the band would slip into another song afterwards like no big deal without much of a transition. But hey, most concertgoers won’t be too cognizant of the show’s lack of direction once their faces have been melted off by accomplished instrumentalists.
“How Can U Luv Me?” featured some phaser pedal action on guitar and a voice box reminiscent of Peter Frampton. Then they slipped into the requisite drum solo, backed by whirring feedback. Here, drummer Riley Geare’s raucous skills were placed in the forefront, providing insight as to how three guys can make music textured enough to merit the moniker of an orchestra. There’s a sense that their soloing is an attempt to transcend the mortality acknowledged in their band name. And what a transcendence, as dragon sock-clad bassist Jake Portrait even took a hit of an audience member’s fat joint mid-show.
The arbitrariness of language extended beyond band name to the lyrical incomprehensibility of Nielson’s reverberating mumbles of soulfulness during “Monki,” while overlaid with Portrait’s funky bass line. And the performance of latest single, “So Good at Being in Trouble” was, well, so good. The sonorous sedation of the song translated well to the stage, where the subject matter of loneliness transformed into a good ole sing-a-long with the fans.
The orchestra crafted so much interesting live material that a seemingly short set culminated in a suspenseful, nearly three-minute clap session — prompting a nearly half-hour encore. Maybe that’s the kind of climax the band was looking for.