Live Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Alex Cameron, Black Zeros

7 December 2015 | 4:51 pm | Eliza Goetze

"The crowd, having sung every word, was suitably entranced."

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Is there anything better than a band you adore reminding you just why and how much you love them? That's what went down on when Unknown Mortal Orchestra hit the Metro for a face-melting live experience, touring their most acclaimed record yet, Multi-Love.

Sydney garage-rock trio Black Zeros opened the bill with high energy, rollicking surf tunes, but they really came into their own when they slowed things down. Frontwoman Joannah Jackson oozes confidence with a rich voice and hypnotic moves, resembling Lana Del Rey, but less cloyingly sweet, more cool and in control. With the mountain of other bands spruiking a similar washed-out guitar sound in Sydney right now, this could be what they need to rise above it all.

Alex Cameron took us into a different world: back to a sweeter time when Aussie anthems were made with a drum machine, a saxophone and a killer yarn. Accompanied by "business partner" Roy Malloy on the sax, the Seekae frontman played another character in his solo mode — or many, to be accurate: a little Nick Cave, a little Michael Hutchence, a little Mental As Anything. In a sharp grey suit with his lank shoulder-length hair, he was an ageing has-been clinging to a fading life in show business in The Comeback; he was the "ugliest, drunkest girl at the bar" in one verse and then the "drunkest, richest guy at the bar" in the next in Real Bad Looking; a consummate showman punctuating every line with a messianic pose, every dance break with lurching, hypnotic moves. The nostalgia of his final track, a cover of the '70s classic Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree, tipped the act over into full irony, and maybe that's what it is, but regardless, it's impossible to deny that he is as charismatic as he is enigmatic.

The enigma of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, shrouded in dreamy distortion on the record, gets totally stripped away in every live show. To see Portland-based Kiwi Ruban Nielson and his band on stage is to experience their music on a whole new wild and raw level. This was apparent in earlier appearances touring 2011's lo-fi self-titled album and its follow-up two years later, II, but it was even starker with Multi-Love; every song felt faster and looser.

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The set was a crowd-pleasing, all-killer mix of hits from all three records, kicking off with Like Acid Rain before harking back to II's From The Sun, a darkly gentle song that Nielson wrenched off the tracks with a blistering guitar solo, and proceeded to do so throughout the set, in case you'd forgotten that he can be a hell of a showman as well as a dreamer. Equally jaw-dropping was a solo by drummer Riley Geare, a rapid-fire blur of limbs reaching ridiculous speed with both reckless abandon and total precision. Joining this tour on keys is Quincy McCrary, bringing the new record's title track to life as well as breathing a new dimension into older favourites like So Good At Being In Trouble with a mesmerising vaudevillian breakdown. The crowd, having sung every word, was suitably entranced.

Nielson's voice cracks on songs like Trouble and the perfectly crafted melody of Necessary Evil, his face contorted, personifying the emotion poured into their construction, particularly the latest record's much-discussed theme of polyamory. "It's not that this song's about her; most songs are about her," he sings of an unnamed third dimension of his marriage on Multi-Love. He dives into the crowd for a suitably theatrical rendition of Stage Or Screen, winding up perched comfortably atop three-metre high speakers. The crowd was ecstatic for the locomotive groove of Can't Keep Checking My Phone, an anxious ode to modern romance that left everyone flush with affection.