If the magic of a rock show is some mystical combination of potent vocals, strong ideas, enveloping melodies, and snake-charmer stage presence, then Uni have been the real deal since inception, as we’d found covering some of their earliest shows and interviewing the core trio of Charlotte Kemp Muhl, Nico Fuzz, and David Strange this past year. Even so, the buzz from the Brooklyn crowd on Tuesday was impressive, with fans discussing the band members’ best attributes and antics before the show had begun – as well as a pervasive rumor about an unnamed special guest. The excited uncertainty rushed through Baby’s All Right as the smoke machines sputtered to life, but luckily, the first openers had plenty of ways to hold everyone’s attention until Uni’s arrival; including the blown-up condom balloons and inflatable sex doll (“Kinky Kim”) that they placed within reach of a much-too-creative mob.
While their very name, YAASSS, sequin-drenched clothing, and naughty props might have hinted at a more sugar-coated act, they were anything but poppy. Their very first notes were a jolt of bone-rattling rock and roll packed with Middle Eastern-inspired riffs, showcasing their self-described genre of “falafel rock” at its loudest and liveliest. Being that the free event was sponsored by Dr. Martens, they were the first to strut the stage in the new boots gifted to each band for the show, and singer/shredder Dr. Feel Awful highlighted them in a very punk rock way. “Thanks Doc Martens for the boots… These boots aren’t made for walking, they’re made for drinkiiiiing,” he moaned, pouring a full beer all over the shiny new leather. The first act had set the bar high, but the second one, Atlanta’s much-loved StarBenders, took the stage looking undaunted. And while their brew of glam rock initially felt more languid in-context, it wasn’t long before all four members were headbanging in unison. Much of the audience joined them, drawn in by the vocals and guitar work of frontwoman Kimi Shelter, whose solos were doused in equal parts attitude, sex appeal, and suspense. “Just when you thought we were pussies, here’s this!” she announced before they closed with a one-two punch of “Paper Beats Rock” and “U Like Me Now” from last year’s Heavy Petting.
In a collective wardrobe that makes one yearn to peer into their closets, Uni took the stage to the sound of squeals, the ever-fashionable Kemp Muhl rocking a vinyl star-print dress and death-defying platform boots. Thrusting their sublime synergy into the spotlight, they turned the setlist formula on its head when they opened with “What’s The Problem?” – their first single (just released by Chimera on a 7-inch with “Adult Video,”), and a near-perfect concoction of tantalizing riffs, ascending “ah”s, and glitter-smothered drama. The extent to which they were total naturals behind their instruments was something to behold; Charlotte tearing into her bass, David caressing the many frets of his double-neck guitar, their touring keyboardist and drummer skillfully constructing the skeleton of their sound. In a set filled with fresh material – “Here’s a new one,” Nico announced at one point, to which Charlotte quipped, “They’re all new, you guys” – Uni sucked us into another world with songs like “Orgy on the Moon,” “Mushroom Cloud,” and “American Fag,” the three of which came in room-shaking succession. With his lusty vocals and pure rockstar aura, it’s easy to interpret Nico as being bold and outspoken; but in reality, he’s fairly reserved between songs. So when he stopped mid-show to ask a question, his voice dripping with anticipation, it got everyone’s attention.
“Sooo what – or uh, who…do you think the special guest is?” he asked. “Sean!” “Seaaan!” shouted a handful fans in the crowd, not picking up on his slip (and thinking Kemp Muhl’s longtime GOASTT counterpart, Sean Lennon, would be joining). “It’s not who you think,” she laughed, flashing a mischievous grin. There were murmurs through the audience and a moment of nervous tension, and then, their guest was escorted onto the stage – and, unlike most musical guests, carefully wrapped around their frontman’s body. Nico had donned a massive, slithering snake, at least 8 feet long; what appeared to be a well-fed python (keep us honest in the comments, herpetologists) and who was, more than likely, having the night of his snake life. When you’re used to hearing cheers and screams at so many shows, it’s arresting to suddenly hear gasps of total shock in their place, and the unison intake of air in the tiny venue was like that of a pre-war audience at a circus or freak show. Of course, it all collapsed into screams as Uni supplied the perfect accompaniment to the spectacle, a song called “Greed.” Nico performed serenely with his new buddy, evoking an Egyptian deity as his emotive hands twisted in the smoke-filled air around the snake’s glossy body. And that was it; with their heavy sound caressing all the reptilian and non-reptilian bodies in the room, whatever effect they’d desired was achieved tenfold, and the energy in that moment was cooler than anything you could explain later. In a single, mesmerizing motion that punctuated Uni’s whole set, Charlotte leaned in with a smile, grazed the serpent’s glistening neck with her fingertips, and gave it a kiss.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley