529 feels like the shoddy basement of a Brooklyn apartment building. Deceptively spacious, it fits into a tight corner on Flat Shoals Ave, just down the street from The Earl. A solid mix of grunge, cheap beer and good sound made it the perfect place to see this particular bill. Both Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Foxygen are touring hot on the heels of their respective album releases and have received a great deal of favorable press. With only one EP under their belt, Wampire is working on their debut record and has already been featured in esteemed publications such as The Fader. It pretty much goes without saying that the lineup was a stacked deck.
Despite any preconceived notions I may have had about Wampire, they really knocked it out of the park. To be frank it’s hard to fight their charm (note: this was partially influenced by lead singer Rocky Tinder’s Boyz II Men 1995 tour t-shirt). With their breezy melodies, driving drum beats and insatiable hooks you can’t help but succumb to some serious toe tapping/head nodding. The off-kilter keyboard and fuzzed out guitar sneak up on you, building into a reverb-soaked freak-out that makes you glad you packed your ear plugs. The set primarily consisted of tracks off their upcoming release, Curiosity, but also featured an extended version of single “The Hearse.”
If you’ve read anything about Foxygen then you know you can’t avoid seeing their name and “retro-rock” in the same sentence. Hackneyed a term as it may be, it suits them. Their latest record, We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, is a virtual minefield of throwback elements; Velvet Underground shuffle, Dylan-esque delivery – not to mention some heavy Rolling Stones vibes. However, they’ve been able to avoid aping their influences by creating their own sound, which is impressive in and of itself, but even more so when you realize these guys are barely legal.
The stage looked comically tiny once the band set up their wide array of gear, cramming Jonathan Rado (guitar, keyboard) into the corner stage left. Frontman Sam France (vocals) emerged from the crowd wearing a black cape lined with red faux fur and sunglasses not unlike those in The Matrix. The image lent itself well to the offbeat nature of Foxygen’s psychedelic rock. Oscillating from the steady shuffle of “Shuggie” to the frenzy of “On Blue Mountain,” the set allowed the songs to stand on their own, wiggle room and all. France delivered the lyrics with the fervor of a preacher, constantly egging on the climatic build, even though it felt like he’d burst. Rado radiates a cool confidence both on keys and guitar so that you can’t help but think he’s wise beyond his years. Young as they may be, Foxygen’s an exciting band that can command the attention of a room.
Portland (by way of New Zealand) band Unknown Mortal Orchestra have been touring pretty consistently for the past two years. They’ve headlined in support of their self-titled debut album, not to mention opened on Grizzly Bear’s Shields tour. UMO’s worn-in psychedelic sound is a welcome and refreshing break in a world of synth-heavy tracks. Their latest release on Jagjaguwar, II, showcases sun-soaked guitar, reverb-drenched vocal and crisp drum beats. On the record’s lead single, “Swim and Sleep,” Ruban Nielson (vocals, guitar) makes you feel as though you’re at the bottom of pool with him, floating alongside glimmery guitar chords as rays of sun cut through the water. This immersive experience translates effortlessly into UMO’s live show. The trio’s set-up was sparse in comparison to the two openers, providing ample room for solos and guitar showmanship on the parts of Nielson and bassist Jake Portrait. Surprisingly, UMO drew heavily from their debut record, playing only the first three tracks off II. They ripped through their back catalogue with aplomb, tearing into fan favorite “Ffunny Ffriends” and inciting a club-wide sing-a-long. “Boy Witch” grew into a 6-minute whirlwind of Nielson’s guitar egged on by Riley Geare’s manic drums, all tethered to Earth by persistent bass.
The crowd staggered out of the club, ears a little worse for wear, heads swimming, but happy nonetheless. It’s become the exception to experience a lineup that flows head to toe, but this tour is as cohesive as it gets, making for a packed night of psychedelic vibes and spilt Miller High Life.
Review and Photo by: Caroline Marchildon
You can check out the rest of Caroline’s photos here.
Edited by: JJ Posway