Live Review: Little Big Show #14, with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Lower Dens, and Hibou 1/29

Little Big Show, Live Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra
all photos by Jim Bennett

Every time a Little Big Show happens, our accomplishments seem to get bigger and better. Our must recent show, at Neptune Theatre last Friday, marks the fourteenth occasion on which Starbucks, STG, and KEXP have put their heads together to line up a crazy good show. And not only that - like all other Little Big Shows, 100% of the ticket sales (you read that right: total sales, not just profits) go to benefit an organization in the Seattle area that benefits youth arts. At Friday's sold out show, over $18k was raised for Red Eagle Soaring, a local youth theater that exists "to empower American Indian and Alaska Native youth to express themselves with confidence and clarity through traditional and contemporary performing arts". That is a powerful number, and even more powerful when its taken in context of the $189k that LBS has helped raise for the Seattle arts in total over the life of the series. To put it lightly, #14 shows us that LBS is far from finished, and with the help of Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Lower Dens alongside rising Seattle act Hibou, tonight may have been one of the best yet.As the beneficiaries of the evening and the wellspring of youth talent that they are, Red Eagle Soaring opened up the evening with a performance from its own group of students. Four young women took to the corner spots of the Neptune balcony and gave attendees a beautiful Native American greeting song. The four were met with rapturous applause and the performance began a stellar evening of musical celebration in lovely form.

Red Eagle Soaring:

What a year for Peter Michel, seriously. This time last year, the former Craft Spells drummer was busy prepping a Barsuk debut LP for Hibou after a handful of self released EPs. By July, leading up to the album release in September, he was crossing the country opening for Cayucas in a small venue setting. After the album dropped, Hibou jumped on tour with New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia (with a killer remix). By November, he was opening for The National side projet EL VY at Neumos. And now, not even six months after the Barsuk album release, Hibou is playing for yet another sold out, this time at Neptune levels of capacity. There's no mystery in why - Hibou's self-titled LP is magic top to bottom, and it translates even better in the live setting. Michel and his band rip through punchy dream pop magic like second nature. Furthermore, the crowd - very eager to dance - eats it up like candy. Good thing Michel kept the airhorn from the Big Freedia tour around on his sampler. With all of the hooting and hollering tonight, this was a party that deserved it.


Last time we saw both Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Lower Dens, it was Capitol Hill Block Party 2015. Lucky for UMO, they got the best of July's luscious weather. Unlucky for Lower Dens, they got a torrential downpour. This time around, it was lovely to see Jana Hunter and the gang rip through a gorgeous set of Lower Dens music without a black cloud above all of our heads. The band released their third LP Escape From Evil last year to much critical acclaim. From the solid debut of Twin-Hand Movement to the krautrock buzzings of Nootropics to their present-tense post-modern new wave sound, Lower Dens only seem to get tighter and smarter with time. This truth is especially dangerous when you think about how good Jana Hunter was at the outset (she reached way to her 2004 CD-R debut for tonight's a cappella closer "All The Best Wishes"). Following that trajectory to the modern day, Hunter is an unstoppable force of a songwriter and a band front-person. Even with some monitor issues on stage tonight, Lower Dens proved all of this sparkling fashion. With a set heavy on the new record and light on filler, Lower Dens made their time fly by in a blur of well executed rock excellence.

Lower Dens:

Ruban Nielson is one of those performers who lies to keep his cards really close until it's time to throw down. To clarify, Unknown Mortal Orchestra's studio albums are fine and dandy, full of excellent songs and inventive textures that pull you back in for dozens of listens every time. But you really haven't gotten the full UMO experience until you've seen Nielson rip for five minutes straight on a guitar solo and still maintain the general semblance of the song he started with. Take II classic "From The Sun" for example. After two verses and a chorus, Nielson throws himself completely into a flurry of notes and arpeggios blistering the eyes of anyone brave enough to look upon him as he blasts through an indefinite amount of time and space, exiting out the other side into a perfectly fine song outro, calmly entering the follow up track with little-to-no fuss about it, then doing the exact same thing to the next one. Nielson alone would have you begging for mercy enough, but add in the masterful drumming of Riley Geare and the keyboard masterworks of Quincy McCrary, and you have yourself a supergroup. Lucky for the audience, both Geare and McCrary got their (multiple) respective solos, too. McCrary's variation on "FFunny FFriends" was especially awesome, switching up the two-time bounce for a more intricate hemiola of rhythms. In all of this, there's no surprise to why UMO went from playing Barboza a week before third album Multi-Love dropped to selling out the Neptune here tonight. With a perfect mixture of talent, songwriting, and jam-band showmanship, Unknown Mortal Orchestra only continue to flourish into an indie rock mainstay.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra:

See you in April for Little Big Show #15, featuring Santigold and rising Seattle act DoNormaal!

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