Two Neilsons, one night. Only a couple of days shy of their Auckland shows, the wavering uncertainty about who would be drumming was resolved and Volume got confirmation that Kody Nielson would be manning the skins for his older brother's Portland psych-out come the weekend.

Straight away, there was a sort of morbid, gossipy hum - if the last couple of Mint Chicks gigs were the fraught separation of siblings, would this be the dysfunctional family reunion from hell?

Horseshit. Dwelling on the messy demise of the Mint Chicks is to see them through rose-tinted glasses. I think I must have seen the group a couple of dozen times from my teens onward, and it was the disorder, the seesawing on the brink of chaos, the tension that you could cut with a knife that made them amazing.

You didn't go along for an authentic album experience unless you craved disappointment.


So Unknown Mortal Orchestra live? Different to the record. The hermetically-sealed dayglo pop universe on there is teased out into long claustrophobic passages. 'Nerve Damage', which sounds like an Ariel Pink slurry on disc, comes across as a stop-start collision between Gun Club twang and some noodly, long-lost Brazilian guitar oddity.

Even the staccato swipes on the ruthlessly-upbeat 'How Can U Luv Me' are a little too stark and ruthless for comfort, marching through the song like the undead.

They come across a little like the bad-trip flipside to Opossom - which is Kody, ex-Mint Chick Michael Logie, and Bic Runga. Both projects bear DNA traces of 'Bad Buzz' and 'Say Goodbye', and Runga is a fine drummer with pop inclinations that give the openers more swing where UMO feel heavier and darker.

The dose of Opossom suggests not just that we're heading for some sort of fusion of The Zombies and the stop-start freak-outs of early Deerhoof (particularly when Bic and Kody swap on drums and keys duties) but also that the amount of material Opossom has already generated means an album sooner rather than later.

This isn't intended to make it sound like one came out over the other - Opossom was the novelty of hearing something for the first time, UMO had the thrill of something you've spent time with being reassembled and recast. And the same tension. Ruban, whose guitarwork in UMO looks RSI-inducing when it's done live, looks more strained by the end. Beer is tipped on stationary audience members.

The numbers are messier, more frenzied. Then it's done - the elder Nielson throws his guitar to the ground. No encores. And for a moment, amid the feedback, there's a stricken expression of uncertainty - or sudden sobriety, or hurt? - on Kody's face, still at the drum kit.

Never mind - where we had one great band, tonight suggests we may now have two very good ones on our hands. Let's hope we keep both for a while.

What: Unknown Mortal Orchestra & Opossom
Where: Kings Arms, Auckland
When: Saturday, December 17

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