Umphrey's McGee: A Review

By Greg Molitor
Photos By Jessica Pace

The 29th show was my 47th UM show, and it was the sloppiest performance I've seen them play. A few members were noticeably three sheets to the wind which held the band back for most of the night. They DID encore with a righteous Nopener which straight-up kicked ass, but night 1 was severely lacking in their signature complex phrasing and harmonized guitar solos. N2F and Pay the Snunka were pretty rough takes of some crowd favorites. After the show, my buddy got the set list and we saw that Miss Tinkle's had been dropped from the set. Bummer. The 30th had to be better. No doubt.

The next night's show, the 30th, was a 10 out of 10. Five stars. Straight rage. Push the Pig was the first set opener. As the band starting to explore the space in the first jam of the show, I could tell the band much different working attitude in comparison to the night before. Tinkle's and Milk were solid and rockin' as always. Wappy Sprayberry...super crunchy...so good. Stopping and starting on a dime, Jake and Brenden were locked in this night. Their harmonized guitar solos can get so fast and smooth, and often times, transcendent. To even out the sound, UM brought out saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, DMB) for two songs. His explosive and spine-tingling tenor sax screams floored the crowd while adding some serious flavor to the UM sound.

Coffin's work on Made to Measure was solid, but the real treat of the 30th was Lady Madonna. This cover was sharp and included some ridiculous playing by all members, especially Jake and Jeff Coffin. The moments just kept getting better. A nasty Higgins>Jimmy Stewart>Higgins was a great transition. The band worked its way into a short “Start Me Up” tease in the Stew which I felt was a bit odd, but I went along with it. Bright Lights featured a short but energy-filled jam, closing out on an adventurous second set.

The encore, All in Time, could probably be played at every UM show I go to and I would still enjoy it. It's an A++, hell of a good tune and its an extremely consistent jam vehicle. This one was no disappointment. Beautiful, beautiful stuff...

NYE is THE night to get loose as a goose. There was no place I'd rather be. Chicago...Umphrey's McGee at the Aragon...my the fourth straight NYE with the band. Yes sir! I mean, c'mon. I get to see one of my favorite bands play with a full horn section on the biggest night for music of the year. Hell yes!
After the 29th and the 30th shows, Kris Myers had already earned most valuable musician award. Kris is the driving force behind the UM sound and is unbelievably consistent night-in and night-out. Big props to him for beasting the kit like he does.

The 31st opened with an average Cemetery Walk I featuring Jake on the slide guitar. His Gilmour-influenced guitar lines near the end of that song exemplify the growth he has show over the years with he playing. Jake's personal style incorporates so many staccato-type phrases that I often forget about his repertoire of soulful licks. His Cemetery Walk I slide solo always reminds me of these, usually in the form of goose bumps. Triple Wide came second...huge...ridiculous. A dance party ensues. The third tune they played, Divisions, is another one of my favorites and kept the good vibes flowing throughout the crowd with some rockin' jamming. To me, Divisions features some of Brendan Bayliss’ most inspirational lyrics to date…powerful and introspective. Like All in Time from the previous night, this tune is the real deal. Always huge. For their next tune, Red Tape, UM introduced the NYE horn section, Mad Dog’s Filthy Little Secret. Red Tape isn’t one of my favorite tunes off Mantis, but this version rocked. After Red Tape, Jake moved to percussion and the band welcomed former drummer Mike Mirro to the stage. From here, the band played an older tune they had only played once previously, titled Headphones and Snocones. After the spacious and melodically pleasing instrumental, the band finished the first set with a classic Mulche's Odyssey. Killer. Straight to the point. Huge.

The electronic jam to start the 2nd set was novel but lacked depth. I could tell Kris wanted to get back to his drum set ASAP. The crowd really got into it, which was fun to see. The band crushed the whole second set that followed. The highlights this set included a high energy Tower of Power cover featuring a spirited Kris Myers on vocals, a dark and funky Ringo with horns, and great rock moments from Bridgeless and Haji.

The third and final set started at 11:45 PM central time. I thought this was a bit early to start a song that's going to jam into NYE. What was the bust out? Much Obliged! Yes! Yet another UM that I am very passionate about :) There's no other feeling in the world like the joyous release that occurs when UM jams into midnight. I experienced this NYE countdown with a friend who is relatively new to the scene. He was blown away to say the least.

The rest of the set included a standard but always rockin' Hurt Bird Bath, a heartfelt Gulf Stream, a Jimmy Stewart soaked Phil's Farm that goes huge, and the official debut of Turn and Dub, a version I enjoyed very much on NYE. After a classy and classic Ryan Stasik bro-out (you kick ass Pony, sorry about the glowsticks in Traverse City), the band crushed a Cemetery Walk II which featured one of the biggest jams of the whole run. What a way to finish the third set! Dance party indeed!

After the encore break, UM came out and thanked the crowd multiple times. The band came across as exhausted, but grateful nonetheless. The encore was a double shot; the first was 1348, the last track from Mantis. The tracks from Mantis all have a beautifully full sound thanks to hours of meticulous studio production and post-production. But even beyond that, UM translates most of these tunes into the live setting ridiculously well. And for those tunes, 1348 is the tip of the bud. The song is the greasy, grimy, funkiness that most UM fans live for. On NYE, 1348 brought the house down...again. The band finished the run with Steely Dan's, "Reelin' in the Years". I'm not a Steely Dan lover, but I do enjoy some Steely Dan from time to time. As Umphrey's McGee does with 99% of their covers, they nailed it.

The 31st was not as tight musically as the 30th, but that's OK...it's NYE. I give this show an 8.5/10 musically and a 10/10 for the experience that it was...magical.
And although the 29th was a disappointment musically, magic happened after the show. Jekisa, ZachNoob, 2immer, and I got a picture with the whole band during a private meet and greet. Awesome! Jeff Coffin was staying at the same hotel as us and a couple of us got to meet him for a few seconds too. He was very gracious with his time and hooked us up with a picture. Thanks a lot UM! You did it again. Next show is #50 :)

Oh yeah, by the way, Jeff Waful is THE BEST light guy on the scene right now. No can touch him right now.

Comments

  1. Nice review. It seems we agree on a lot of things.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Greg is one of the more knowlegdable people when it comes to Umphrey's McGee. A true super fan. 50 shows in 3 or 4 years.

    -J-man

    ReplyDelete

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