80-minute set’s all killer and no filler hits create one of the best shows of the year.

It's actually only been seven months since Unknown Mortal Orchestra released Multi-Love, but the excited buzz of anticipation snaking around the St James Theatre on Saturday night was not dissimilar to one created by a bunch of fans who'd waited a lifetime to see their favourite international act perform.

They were spontaneously whooping, smiling, talking too fast, unable to stop jiggling on the spot.

And for some, maybe they had sort of been waiting a lifetime, because while UMO have performed here regularly over the past five years, Multi-Love seems to have connected the band with a whole new generation of fans for the first time.

Eighteen-year-olds that never heard of The Mint Chicks, or have little knowledge of Ruban Nielson's New Zealand context, are simply enthralled by his vital, unhinged, celebratory songs of modern relationships, with a soulful groove that's hard to escape - as are those of us a decade or two older.


So expectations were high on Saturday night, but UMO's performance of those songs was absurdly good.

It's hard to go wrong when you can fill an 80-minute set with "all killer no filler" hits, but there were some brilliant jazz-fuelled wanderings too, and Nielson's guitar solos (with the instrument distinctively slung over only one shoulder) and vocal performance were outstanding.

His characterful falsetto is impressive on its own, but it was as if the ghost of James Brown (who performed at the St James himself in 2004) was there to shake a little extra soul dust over some of his more impassioned moments too, and Nielson frequently dropped to his knees or haunches as he danced out the front of the stage and into the audience.

Having a whip-smart band also helps of course, and with new band member Quincy McCrary behind a white baby grand, also laying down layers of synth and keys, and Nielson's father Chris on saxophone and trumpet, they were more "orchestral" than ever before.

Jacob Portrait on bass and Riley Geare on drums were also doing double duties singing backing vocals, which meant they could stretch to four-part harmonies on some tracks, effortlessly recreating the dreamy psychedelic sounds of songs like The World is Crowded, and From the Sun.

It's hard to pick highlights in a set that was all highlights - the stormy opening of Like Acid Rain was a beautiful introduction, and the nonchalance with which the whole band segued from a mega drum solo at the end of snappy How Can You Luv Me into the warped, rhythmic melodies of Ur Life One Night, left the audience cheering.

The piano intro to Ffunny Ffrends, and the Bartokian outro, gave the track a whole new context, and the sweet melancholy of Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark) was spine-tingling.

But it was the last four songs of the night that took the crowd to another level: Can't Keep Checking My Phone turned the St James into a bonafide, hands-in-the-air, sweaty dance party, with it's tropical groove and brilliant bassline.

Chris Nielson gave tender love song Necessary Evil an epic trumpet opening; So Good at Being in Trouble raised a passionate singalong before finishing with an extended funk jam; and Multi-Love was quite simply magical.

One of the best shows of 2015 hands down.

• Unknown Mortal Orchestra perform in Wellington tonight, Christchurch on Tuesday night, Dunedin on Wednesday and Thursday night, and back in Wellington for a final New Zealand show on Friday night.

Live review
Who: Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Where: St James Theatre.