Umphrey’s McGee: S2 & Full Concert 

The Orbit Room - Grand Rapids, Michigan
July 8th, 2011

Words & Photos By Greg Molitor (ReMIND Photography)

I arrived to the Orbit Room in Grand Rapids a few minutes after 6:00 PM. The evening called for a double dose of Umphrey’s McGee in the form of a full, two-set concert that was preceded by an S2, a unique performance that featured three shortened sets of improvisation and two Q & A sessions. After greeting some close friends outside the venue before the S2, my friend Angela and I made our way into the venue.

S2 performance:

Inspired by the ideas from the fifty-person audience, the S2 featured the members of Umphrey’s improvising to the suggestions of the crowd who sent phrases via text message to a giant screen. Entirely unique to any I’d seen before, the S2 was a fantastic experience that found the band pushing their creative boundaries throughout. There isn’t another band on the planet that does anything close to this sort of gig, and at $100 per ticket, the S2 gave die-hard fans the opportunity to enjoy an intimate experience that could never be duplicated. The cost of admission was steep, yes, but you really can’t put a price tag on what a true fan gains from this once-in-a-lifetime deal.

The three improv segments contained a variety of interesting jam suggestions including twists on classic Umphrey’s tunes (dub wizard burial ground, ANGRY BOOTH LOVE, Disco hangover), some unconventional takes on covers (senor speedy gonzalas mouse, push it to the danger zone), as well as cues that required individual members to step into the spotlight for wild instrumental or vocal antics (stasik on a porn set, Joel “Rick Wakeman” Cummings Solo, Kris Andy switch). The whole concept was intriguing as the band moved with a workmanlike yet relaxed approach to the suggestions. They were clearly having a blast onstage which added to the excitement for the audience who watched intently for the duration. The musical portion of the S2 ended with each member on percussion, something I’d never seen before during the many Umphrey’s shows I’ve attended. Awesome!

Two question-and-answer segments filled the time between the improv segments. The fans asked questions ranging from serious (“When are you coming back to South Bend?!?), to lighthearted and joking (“If you weren’t musicians, what would your day jobs be?”). With lead singer / guitarist Brendan Bayliss fielding the majority of the questions, the band often answered with that signature quick witted, quirky sense of humor that is undeniably Umphrey’s. After the final improv, the band and the audience came together in the lobby for a meet-and-greet over pizza and drinks, another brilliantly planned, value-added aspect to the event. Angela and I capped off the S2 with a couple dank slices of ‘za, then left The Orbit Room to rage the lot before the two-set concert that followed.

Improv One:

Grand Rapids Psycho Killer Funk Jam
Soaring Metal Freakout
Old School Hip-Hop Farag Bayliss Free Style Flow
Farag Solo
Dub Wizard Burial Ground

Improv Two:

Senor Speedy Gonzalas Mouse
Slap Bass Solo
Stasik on a Porn Set
Push it to The Danger Zone
Disco Hangover
Bluegrass Jam
Joel "Rick Wakeman" Cummings Solo

Improv Three:

Kris Andy Switch
Epic End of The World Jam
Bang on The Drums All Day

West Michigan LOVES Umphrey’s McGee. As we left the venue, dozens of folks were outside for a close-knit parking lot party. Joining the pregame festivities was a no-brainer as everyone shared drinks and stories from the previous weekend’s Fourth of July celebration. Eventually it became time to reenter the venue for the less intimate, usual two-set performance, and as I walked into The Orbit Room, memories of shows past flooded my thoughts. Umphrey’s was my go-to band for many years and although I don’t see their shows nearly as much as I did formerly, a sense of satisfaction came over me. Reflecting on being 26-years-old, I felt incredibly fortunate to have met individuals I know, travel to the places I’ve been, and receive the opportunities placed before me. For that, I’m extremely grateful for live music and Umphrey’s McGee.

As for the two-set performance, it played out as expected with a few rare moments that made the show worth attending. A handful of newer tunes were played which didn’t suit my fancy. I prefer the band’s earlier material, but recently written songs such as “Hourglass” or “Wellwishers” are actually growing on me a bit. The gems of the night were “Front Porch > Q*Bert > Front Porch”, a sandwich that featured a two older classics that are rarely played, especially “Q*Bert, and also a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that contained the best jam of the evening. The sound in the venue was boomy and left a bit to be desired, but the band was on top of their game for most of the evening. The show ended with a “Pay The Snucka Part III” followed by a high-energy “Partyin’ Peeps” that was one of the best takes on the tune I’d seen in a long time.

Per usual, I left the venue smiling, overjoyed to the have been a part of the big picture, and although my encounters with Umphrey’s are less frequent these days, there’ll always be a place in my heart for the band that has meant so much to me over the years. Umphrey’s, if you keep playin’, I’ll keep showin’ up. That’s a promise.

Set One: Jazz Odyssey > Hourglass, Words, Soul Food I > Example 1*, Go to Hell, Morning Song

Set Two: Front Porch > Q*Bert > Front Porch, Walletsworth, Billie Jean > Search 4, Wellwishers, Get In the Van, Gulf Stream > Pay the Snucka (part III)

Encore: Partyin’ Peeps

Greg’s Photo Gallery From The Show


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