Umphrey's McGee 6.28.12
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Words & Photos by Benjamin Wilkerson
Progressive-rockers Umphrey’s McGee grace the picturesque and meticulously maintained grounds of Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens for a pleasing and family-friendly outdoor performance as part of the Groovin’ in the Garden annual summer concert series. The band has a proven sound, honed through a dozen active years of touring, and they stay true to their fast-tempo, improvisational, and some would even say hair metal roots (no pun intended). Influences aside, Umphrey’s has a solid history of rocking small and large venues alike, and their summer touring schedule has already seen several festival appearances. But, tonight feels like a homely setting for the band’s spontaneous leanings in a venue where they once paid homage to Michael Jackson on the day of his death at this same venue three years prior.
Set I: Cummins Lies > Red Tape*, Nemo, Alex's House, Room to Breathe, In The Kitchen, Partyin' Peeps
Set II: Nothing Too Fancy** > The Bottom Half, The Linear > Africa, August, Visions$ > Plunger
Encore: Uncommon > Baba O'Riley
* with Can't You Hear Me Knockin' (Rolling Stones) teases
** with Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne) jam; unfinished
$ previously known as Visions of Parin
Also known by the pronounceable acronym UM, they begin with a seamless intro from their house/PA music and simply take over the speakers as each band member joins. A few songs in, and under the clear & cloudless skies, the crew members beneath the soundboard tents mid-audience disassemble their covers so they too can enjoy the warm weather with the threat of rain completely absent. Brendan Bayliss, singer and guitarist for the sextuplet, dedicates the tune “In the Kitchen” for their friends and family from the area in attendance, and the lyrics shout-out to the bands’ hometown of Chicago. Umphrey’s first set follows through into the beginning of the cloudless sunset with their fan favorite “Partyin’ Peeps”. Bassist Ryan Stasik signals the soundman during the jam to turn him up just in time for a big synchronized drop in the low tones before guitarist Jake Cinninger builds an arpeggiated rise for the crescendo for some of their characteristic shredding peaks as they conclude for intermission.
Under the fading dusk, they return to much accolade from the fans and the start of their vivid light show. After first diving into some hefty bars of melodic instrumental improvisation including a take on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” they continue into some more stylings of drum and bass and electronic dance music before their jams leads into the 80s staple “Africa” by Toto. As the bassist takes a solo in the spotlight wearing hipster fashions; a throwback Pittsburgh Pirates hat, cut-off jean shorts, and a mustache straight out of Brooklyn, NY, some oversaturated male fan yells “I want to have your babies!” Next, they go into a crowd request which sees more electronic drum and bass influenced improvisation for the rowdy yet respectful audience; the fans seem to be harnessing all their energy and attention for the show itself. As the band finishes with one of their more well-known tunes “Plunger”, a rigorous applause brings them back out for a two song encore finale.
Afterwards, as the patrons in the parking lot slowly file out the only and severely bottle-necked exit, some still continue to drink, eat, and fellowship. The boisterous crowd blasts Phish from their car stereos, and with two of this jam titan’s recent shows within feasible driving distance, they joke in reference to last week’s performances in Portsmouth quoting, “You suck at tucking!” in playful jest in the peaceful Virginia summer humidity.