Umphrey's McGee 12.30.13

The 1up
Denver, CO

Words By J-man
Photos By Kevin Hahn (Split open & Shoot)

It was early on the afternoon of Monday December 30th when I received a phone call that caught me off guard. The person on the other end informed me that Carly and I would be attending Umphrey's McGee that evening at Denver's newest venue The 1up! All of this seems fantastic until you break it down and realize the full epic scope of what we're talking about. This was not just any Umphrey's McGee show. This was a sold out evening with 350 hardcore Umphreaks who each paid $200.00 to see their favorite band in an arcade. The line out front of The 1up extended down the block under the brand new signage and marquee. As we passed through the door we stepped back into our childhood, surrounded by games like Pac-Man, Mario Brothers, Skee Ball and the largest collection of pinball machines that I have seen in some time. Now, back to that $200.00 cost that you may have thought I glossed over. Let's break it down. $200.00 to see one of the greatest rock bands in the world, in a pristine arcade with 350 fans. Sounds somewhat hefty for those on the more conservative side. But throw in an open bar, free food and all of the arcade games turned to free and we have ourselves one hell of a party.

We wandered around getting lost in nostalgic throwbacks. Ball after ball dropped into play and was sent bouncing around the confines of the flashing and glowing machines. I witnessed grown men turn back into children, completely sucked into 8-bit video games. As if that didn't make the evening alone, we looked up to realize that we had yet to venture into the main concert venue. We ran into Abby Radbill (Umphrey's Mondays), Matthew Stewart (The gentleman in the tiny hat who hands out stickers across the front range), Kevin Hahn and several other friends and Umphrey's fanatics. The fun part about running into everyone was the element of surprise, as no one had any clue that we would be attending. Our attention turned to the open bar and with an Umphrey's Mcgee koozie in one hand and a MusicMarauders koozie in the other, I ordered my first two Dale's Pale Ales of the evening. A short time later, I nearly collided with bassist, Ryan Stasik, on his way to the stage. Just before the show began I ran into multiple folks who drove from as far as Michigan, Florida and Massachusetts, to see their favorite band in Denver, CO. I knew the evening was nothing to take lightly, so I dove into the intoxicants and hung on for the ride.

Going into the four night run, the one song that I wanted to hear above all others was "All In Time," which the band kicked their first set of the evening off with. I knew the crowd would be energetic, but I found myself nearly in tears as almost every person in the room screamed every word along with guitarist, Brendan Bayliss. The sound sailed crisply under the low ceilings of the venue, as the lights flashed at a mesmorisingly blinding pace. The hair on my arms stood upright as the band shredded my favorite song. A mere six minutes into the show and shit was getting heavy with Jake Cinninger shredding with machinelike perfection. "All In Time" was left unfinished as the band transitioned into "2x2," with some cool drum and percussion work from Kris Myers and Andy Farag. Again, the crazies held onto every word that came out of Bayliss' mouth, before more insanity ensued, this time from both guitarists. Through eighteen minutes of complex transitions and flawless instrumentation, Umphrey's McGee sent a message that the evening, through the cost and difficulty of getting a ticket, would be worth it. They teased "Auld Lang Syne" to wet everyone's palette for the massive evening that would follow.

After some humorous banter about the only other time the band had played an arcade, they kicked off "Night Nurse." The music meandered along with some staccato picking lathered in effects. With Joel Cummins touching on a somber vibe on the keys, things became intense and UM transitioned into "Padgett's Profile." The energy leveled out as Stasik dug in with some heavy bass slaps. The jam cooled and the band caught the capacity crowd off guard going into a song that they had only played one other time, Elton John's "Benny and the Jets." My jaw dropped as Bayliss attempted the ridiculous high notes, successfully I might add. The 1up went ape shit as Joel played some tasteful key licks. As if I wasn't already disoriented by the free beer and the band's choice of cover, they transition back into "All In Time" to close out the grande sandwich. My head almost exploded, but I was able to keep it together for the nearly seven minute resolve of a song they started the show with some sixty minutes prior. It was beautiful. It was glorious. It was just the beginning.

"Search 4" began with intention and the guitars riffing hard before taking it low and beginning another gradual climb. "Search 4" went into a song they hadn't played in over a year, "Orfeo," via some interesting key work from Joel yet again. He seemed more prominent than usual, something I found myself enjoying quite a bit. "Orfeo" was a sonic smorgisbord of sorts, with soaring instrumentation and impressive range. It felt like a soundtrack to a movie, or maybe a soundtrack to life.

"This next one was a surprising high top vote getter so... We hope you like this one, because you picked it," Bayliss said as the band debuted Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)."

The discussion had been had at a few points already that weekend, that UM does covers possibly better than any other band. It was perfect and before we knew it, we were back in the 80's yet again. It felt good and people were getting down! Bayliss gave a short speech about how we are all in it together before dropping into the final stretch of the song and the set with everyone singing along.

"We're Kris Myers and The Bubble Baths. We're taking a very short break, we'll see you in a few minutes," Bayliss said as the band exited the stage.

The venue was buzzing, people were buzzing and I was buzzing... right to the bar for "another round of (free) drinks on me." The joke went a lot further than I thought it would. It was incredible to come to the realization that we were in an arcade and that our setbreak would be occupied with video games instead on random pointless banter and waiting for the second set to start. Wide eyed adult children crisscrossed in every direction around the arcade, truly getting their money's worth in the adult playground. The joysticks were properly greased from free pizza and ready for any challenger who dare test their current day skills on old favorites. I remember being so much better as a child, though as a child, I was not in the current state in which I found myself then. Prior to the second set, we wandered past the coat check, outside into the courtyard. We conversed with a very respectful security staffer before heading back inside just in time to catch the band's return to the stage.

An extended synth hold from Joel yielded "Nothing Too Fancy," and some interesting electronic drum clicks. The tempo picked up and it was off to the races with wailing guitar work and well timed cues. Hands were in the air as folks jumped up and down uncontrollably in what felt like an all out celebration. Following each song, I found myself saying "wow," and looking around at my friends to find them with a similar expression of fright on their faces. "FF" came next with Bayliss and the capacity crowd taking over on vocals, before the band started to tease and eventually head into "Legalize It," in celebration of Colorado selling marijuana in stores just a couple of days to follow. The song was wacky, well timed and entertaining as hell, from a Colorado marijuana smoker's point of view. "Legalize It" went into "Blue Echo" and featured some interesting breakbeats and spacey effects, again reflecting a fantastically diverse range and incredible musical insight.

UM dropped "Q*Bert" on the loyal crowd, with a well-timed "whew" from the audience on cue. Joel again stepped to the front of the composition with Kris chopping along on the kit before the guitars and bass reentered the picture in a jammed out fashion. Another category from the ballot "New cover, band choice," triggered "Glide," courtesy of Stasik.

"Are you guys wearing dancing pants?" Bayliss asked the crowd before suggesting "You're going to need them."

"Glide" debuted with some funk chops, a heavy slap bass, nasty synth and some high octive vocals from Bayliss. Joel took the jam to the next level with screaming tones and although the song wasn't as tight as some of their others, it by no means reflected a debut. Up next was a song that the band hadn't played in about three and a half years, "Muff II: The Revenge." the song was part rockabilly and part rage, through four minutes of finger-picking delight. Upon the song's conclusion, the crowd went wild. "The Girl Is Mine," another song that hadn't been touched on in three plus years, followed and though it was dedicated to a friend, we could tell it was for the ladies. Smooth vocals from Jake quickly became the whole place singing Jane's Addiction's "Jane Says" before turning back into "The Girl Is Mine." Even during the softer songs, Jake is driven to shred and before long, the jam collapsed with euphoric chaos and went into a song that the band had only played a few times live, "Pork Chop Pie." Choppy lyrics tore through the short composition and two minutes later, it was over.

"The Fussy Dutchman" came next to close the second set. Per usual, every member of the band contributed an essential layer to what amounted to epic musical output. The guitar ascended and descended back and forth, bending huge notes before falling into sweeping arpeggios. The jam mellowed out again creating some wide open space for some video game sounding instrumentation. Through approximately seventeen minutes of extreme peaks the band bounced as much rage as possible off of the foreheads of their adoring fans, sealing the deal on another mind-blowing set of music.

The 1up started in with the "We want the Umph" chant.

"One of the reasons we wanted to do this tonight was for the Colorado Mondays people who have been promoting our music and coming out and having a good time and making a Monday every month something special. So, cheers to you guys!" Jake declared.

"In The Puppet Kitchen" came next to close the evening combining "Puppet String" and "In The Kitchen." Harmonics collided with shredding guitar as Bayliss belted out the lyrics from "In The kitchen." Lyrics from "Puppet String" came next before an all out assault of rage closed the epic show. The lights came up and there were smiles everywhere. There was not a doubt that what we had experienced was overwhelmingly special. Fans drunkenly stumbled around collecting their coats, saying good-byes and for a few stragglers, heading into the arcade for some last minute action.

The evening was a constant reminder of the overall musical and business dominance of Umphrey's McGee. The perfection of every single song the band undertook, alongside fantastic stage presence and musical intuition, instantly made the expensive ticket for the intimate experience worthwhile. Kudos to The 1up for being able to dream big and perfectly execute a show of this nature in such a new and untested space. Building the venue for UM down, will ensure a high level of output from what I consider a game changer for the Denver, CO music venues. The combination of two powerhouse entities made that evening one of the greatest concert experiences of my life and for that I will always be grateful. The realization that we still had three sets the following night on New Years Eve set in so we headed home to rest and repeat. That night approximately 400 people witnessed greatness. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you ask me who my favorite band is, chances are I will respond with "Umphrey's McGee"...

Kevin's Photo Gallery

Set One: All In Time -> 2x2[1] > Night Nurse > Padgett's Profile[2] > Bennie and the Jets > All In Time, Search 4[2] > Orfeo, Don't You (Forget About Me)[3]

Set Two: Nothing Too Fancy, FF[4] > Legalize It -> Blue Echo[2], Q*Bert, Glide[5], Muff II: The Revenge, The Girl Is Mine > Jane Says > The Girl Is Mine -> Pork Chop Pie, The Fussy Dutchman[6]

Encore: In The Puppet Kitchen


[1] with Auld Lang Syne jam
[2] unfinished
[3] debut, Simple Minds
[4] with Legalize It (Peter Tosh) tease
[5] debut, Pleasure
[6] "Jimmy Stewart" with lyrics


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