Umphrey's McGee 9.15.12
Words & Photos By J-man
From the beginning, this show was the most highly anticipated of the three night Umphrey's McGee/Railroad Earth run, if not the most anticipated show of the summer for Colorado jam fans. First, it was RRE's sold out show at The Boulder Theater, then UM and RRE's near sell out at Red Rocks. Lastly, would be a sold out Saturday night in Boulder with UM at The Boulder Theater. The line in front of the beautifully lit venue extended down the block and around the corner. There was a buzz in the air that night as those who had already obtained their tickets knew that they were in for a treat, and those who had not, reflected pure hope into the universe. Friends from all over the country embraced, as that evening would mark one of the handful special occasions in which travelers would reconnect. This wasn't your normal show from a local band, this would be an experience from one of the most ragingly precise national touring groups on the live music scene. Umphrey's McGee at The Boulder Theater would mark a sort of pinnacle for the summer.
With the theatre packed to the brim, UM took the stage and opened the evening with "Jekyll & Hyde." Joel Cummins' haunting keys danced around the room, easing into the set before the rest of the band stepped up with heavy chord strikes. The vibe felt intense already as the band transitioned right into "White Man's Moccasin." Finger taps on the guitar further elevated the already huge start as the first vocal lines of the evening came into play. The rail-riders sang along word for word with their eyes closed as they took in their favorite group of talent. Brendan Bayliss smiled at the crowd while the attention shifted to Jake Cinninger on the opposite side of the stage.
"What's happening, Boulder? Yup, still got a little gas left in your tank for tonight, right?" Brendan said following their first couple of songs. The crowd went absolutely wild.
"Comma Later" featured Kris Myers' crisp/crucial drumming and Andy Farag stepping in with percussive fills. Ryan Stasik's heavy bass weighed in on the musical conversation with deep low end. The composition went from mild to spicy and featured a solid mid section jam. "Bridgeless" came next to the delight of the adoring crowd! The intensity peaked yet again. Bayliss' a-tonal vocals lead the charge before some high octain instrumentation collided with yelling from the crowd. UM stopped and started on the drop of a dime, jumping into progressive metal, then melodic sweeps. The twelve minute song was one of the instant highlights of the first set and reflected the capabilities of a well oiled machine.
"Yeah, how are you guys doing out there?" Bayliss asked following "Bridgeless." "This has been a great weekend, we can't thank y'all enough. Every time we come to Colorado you guys help us raise the bar," he went on to say.
"Water" slowed the set down just a touch and eluded to UM's "softer" side. "Water" also helped to create a sort of balance within' the rowdy first set. The mellow song built and built until once again, the Boulder Theater was erupting with energy. "Slacker" followed with Brendan's vocals as the focal point. The breakdown in "Slacker" created a spacey vibe as Jake sampled different effects from his plethora of pedals and tones. Combined with Joel's synth, it quickly became a dance party as the light work of Jefferson Waful took center stage. "Crucial Taunt" came next featuring dual lead and a sort of poppy sound. The combination of Brendan and Jake was near flawless and complimentary on a level with many of the greats. Crowd favorite and UM classic, "Resolution," began and went through some great changes over the almost thirteen minute span. The song has come a long way from it's humble beginnings. Slowly, we began to hear signs of a return to "Bridgeless" and sure enough a massive transition took us back to "Bridgeless" to close the epic first set.
"Wizard Burial Ground," making clear of their intentions for a massive second set. Without getting ahead of myself, I began to reflect on the potential of this show being one of the better that I had witnessed over the course of the summer.Arpeggio sweeps and masturbatory instrumentation followed as the sold out crowd went into a frenzy. Just then, Joel brought forth a mind scrambling solo followed by a melodic piano interlude that would segue into the second half of the beastly composition. Each stop brought a roar from the crowd followed by more over the top guitar work until the composition began to wind down then build back up for one last hurrah. I stood in awe of what a $35.00 ticket had bought the evening's patrons.
"We thought we'd start the second set off with a love song..." Bayliss said about "Wizard Burial Ground."
"August" brought direct contrast to the set opener and just like almost every other song of the evening, it built up to soaring heights. "Deeper" came next and meandered along with a touch of echo. Electronic sounding drums and guitar noodling took over as the synth howled in the background. Then, UM went right into "The Crooked One," seamlessly. Fans sang along as if no one was looking... and indeed no one was looking, as the light show captivated the twinkling eyes of the Boulder crowd. There was a moment during "The Crooked One" that I closed my eyes and was overtaken by the entire experience. It would have taken a lot to derail this train. I turned to my friends and commented about how powerful the show had been thus far and how this could be the best that I had seen over the festival season. In return I was given smiles and nods as no one disagreed.
"Andy's Last Beer" came next and kept the same consistent energy going. The band interacted a lot with one another facing off in an almost duel like fashion and ripping it up on their respective instruments. "Andy's Last Beer" went into "Liberty Echo" with heavy guitar that leveled out into an airy midsection that grew and went into the set closer, "Miss Tinkle's Overture." What an excellent choice for the closer, as "Miss Tinkle's" featured some of the most characteristic aspects of UM; heavy/wailing guitar, lots of changes, charging melodies and in this situation, a dance section that had folks breaking it down. Stasik stepped up to lay down some bass over Kris' drumming. Slowly distant guitar entered the picture with Joel's dirty synth and some electronic drum work. The band then started their biggest climb of the evening. I shook my head in disbelief as UM melted my face. It was overwhelming. It was terrifying. It was beautiful.
"Thank you Colorado, we love you" Jake said into the mic as the band exited the stage.
A short time later, following Joel's attempt at a crowd chant for an upcoming political video, UM returned and began with "Hajimemashite." The crowd sang along with Bayliss and although it was a slow selection for an encore, it was a fan favorite that everyone knew would build, and build it did. The second encore came in the form of "Hangover" with the fans chanting the intro. Then, as the band started and stopped, the fans chanted "all night long." However, a few minutes later following one last instrumental burst, the show was over.
It was at that moment that it was confirmed for me. UM had put on the best show that I had seen this summer. It's wasn't about the hype, the lights, the fantastic vibe of The Boulder Theater. It was about pure energy and fantastic musicianship. Pure excessive musical and energetic output. There is not a single band that I have seen over the the course of attending shows five nights a week for three to four months that touched what UM did that night in Boulder. For me, it was the highlight of the three night UM/RRE Colorado run, as well as my summer. To ask who my favorite band is wouldn't yield a quick verbal answer, but in my head I would probably be thinking "Umphrey's McGee and... Umphrey's McGee and..."
J-man's Photo Gallery
Set One: Jekyll & Hyde, White Man's Moccasin, Comma Later, Bridgeless, Water, Slacker, Crucial Taunt, Resolution > Bridgeless
Set Two: Wizard Burial Ground, August, Deeper, The Crooked One, Andy's Last Beer, Liberty Echo, Miss Tinkle's Overture
Encore: Hajimemashite, Hangover