Umphrey’s McGee: Red Rocks

July 3rd, 2010

Words By Greg Molitor
Photos By Jessica Pace

Red Rocks is Mecca for rock musicians. Artists that dedicate their lives to playing improvisational rock dream of the westward opportunity to stand where legends have stood, play where virtuosos have played, and experience the magic that radiates from the majestic surrounding mountains. Only the best of the best get a chance, and when it’s presented, they must take full advantage. July 3rd, 2010, marked Umphrey’s McGee’s first opportunity to headline the Colorado famous venue and make a bold statement to the improvisational world. When a band gets a chance to stand tall and proclaim, “We are here, we are now, and we are LOUD! “, it sure as hell better take it.

Although July 3rd was to be an Umphrey’s night, it brought some friends to join-in on the festivities. The Wailers, who carry on the loving tradition of Bob Marley’s reggae, and Galactic, the New Orleans-based funk rock outfit, warmed the stage for Umphrey’s McGee on this beautiful summer evening. The Wailers set, though predictable and a bit watered down, set the mood well for the rest of the night. It wasn’t the sharpest performance, but Bob Marley’s music is so strong and emotionally charged, one couldn’t help but feel the power and history behind the tunes. The set from Galactic, however, was huge. It was disappointing to see an almost identical set as the previous night’s, but they played it phenomenally. Galactic played Red Rocks how it should be played…with loads of conviction, character, and undeniable grit. Aided by Cyril Neville (Neville Brothers) for the majority of their set, the band left the audience’s souls blazing song after song, never letting the momentum stop until they crushed their short but fiery encore much to the crowd’s delight.

After a brief but spacious set break, Umphrey’s took the stage to a huge ovation from Red Rocks. The band had arrived, and it was a long time coming. “Mantis” > “Mantis Ghetts” > “Mantis (unfinished)” was its first offering to the crowd which did not disappoint. In fact, the second half of “Mantis” contained the most energy of the night and featured one of the largest musical peaks in the band’s history. No exaggeration! Midway through the song, the band took a sharp turn by segueing into “Ocean Billy”.

“Ocean Billy” is heavy and forceful, and at times, downright frightening. The guitar wizardry displayed by guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger is matched by few on the scene as mind-blowing technical prowess flowed freely through their lightning-fast finger taps during “OB”. A fusion-influenced “Jimmy Stewart” sandwiched in the “OB” and proved to the most concise “Stew” jam of the night.

After finishing “Ocean Billy”, the band lost some momentum, unfortunately. “Wappy Sprayberry” was the next selection, and although it is one of Umphrey’s most reliable jam vehicles, the version at Red Rocks went nowhere. During the improvised section, shred master Jake Cinninger inexplicably set down his guitar and joined keyboardist Joel Cummins on keys. This was a surprising move because Umphrey’s has always stuck to its guns while accepting its limitations. Certainly the band did not rise to Red Rocks status with Cinninger playing keys. The unnecessary move felt like a slap on the face to those who love the band for not only their accomplishments, but also for their avoidance of this type of lofty pretentiousness.

After the “Wappy Sprayberry” fiasco, the band attempted but could not reach the dizzying heights found in the first twenty minutes of their set. The only bright spots during the remainder of the set were an always solid “Hajimemashite” and a rockin’ “Mulche’s Odyssey”. Beyond the first attempt, the “Jimmy Stewart” jams that followed lacked direction and musical communication as the melodic leaders of the band were clearly not in-sync on this evening. As the show neared to its close, the band had one last surprise for the audience, a “Mulche’s Odyssey” > “Mantis” segue that floored the entire audience. No one stops on a dime quite like Umphrey’s McGee, and this moment exemplified their ability to completely captivate a crowd when motivated.

For an encore, Umphrey’s opened with “The Triple Wide”. Always a dance party, “The Triple Wide” was fun but again contained moments that seemed lost. The show concluded with the members of Galactic joining Umphrey’s for a mash-up of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic”. There were too many people on stage trying to do too much during the encore, and it came off as messy and unrehearsed. It’s difficult enough to play a mash-up of two songs if unrehearsed, so it was odd to see a mash-up as an encore selection for two bands that haven’t had an opportunity to practice the tune together.

The 4th of July show in Denver (review coming soon) was a much better performance than this evening’s as the band played to its potential the following day. However, Umphrey’s McGee’s set was undeniably a disappointment that left many wondering what had happened to their favorite band. For band that is known for its consistency as much as Umphrey’s, a down show leaves many questions to be answered. Luckily, if one stuck around to see their next night’s show, those questions were answered…plus much more!


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