Umphrey's McGee 12.31.13

The Fillmore Auditorium
Denver, CO

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

Coming off of an epic night of music at The 1up the previous evening, our palates were soaked and ready for three massive sets from Umphrey's McGee. There were a lot of places that we could have chosen to be that night, but really only one option in our mind. Outside of The Fillmore, we opened up our envelope of media credentials to find additional tickets for the sold out show. With all of our friends already with tickets or inside, we made a few peoples' night. Entering The Fillmore the searches were thorough, causing the line to extend as far down the block as I've seen it go. Once inside, we purchased a couple of $10.00 beers and made our way to the floor to carve out some space. The floor was packed with folks dressed in classy attire, costumes and boasting all sorts of random accessories. As my attention shifted to the stage, UM saddled up and the crowd roared loudly knowing even before the show started that they had made the right choice of NYE destinations. What songs would UM play? What sort of surprises did they have in store for us? Would we survive? Rage ensued.

Set one began with "Le Blitz" and some menacing foreshadowing that opened up quickly. The band began shredding almost immediately, reflecting less patience and more intention from the previous evening, before transitioning into "Phil's Farm." Shred quickly turned to rockabilly with vocals followed by prog breaks and some finger picking. The grove was left to Ryan Stasik as the composition split into improvisational bliss with a heavy serving of tonal exploration from all involved. The band peaked heavily with Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss ripping apart their guitars. The jam turned towards an interesting breakdown before resolving and going into "Ocean Billy." The intro, as always, included some heavy Jake riffing while Kris Myers and Andy Farag created a solid percussive grove. Brendan took over on vocals with a good portion of the sold out crowd joining in. Soaring guitar was met with more guitar in a peaking overload of joyus music. A sort of ambient ensued over with Jefferson Wafful not missing a beat on the lights. Many say he is the best in the business and from what I saw that night (and every other night), I wasn't going to argue.

We were thirty five minutes into the show before the band slowed down for a break and the capacity crowd showed their support.

"Happy New Year's Eve everybody. Thank you so much for choosing to spend your time with Umphrey's McGee, we intend to make it worth your while," Bayliss said with great fortitude.

"Mail Package" began in a bluesy fashion and progressed into a noodly jam with vocals from Jake. Towards the end of the composition it took off, melting faces and showing strong range. We were not prepared for what came next, as it was early in the set.

"This is for all of you lovers out there," Bayliss said with a smile before the band dropped into "Wizard Burial Ground."

The rage was almost too much to handle. The Fillmore exploded into insanity as small pits developed and people threw down. The screeching dual guitars were torn apart by insane drum work that left the people around us scrambling for some sense of reality. It was a glorious moment with overwhelming intensity and complete destruction before Joel Cummins stepped in to clean up the figurative mess with a heavy synth. The intensity cooled, if only briefly for Joel to solo on the piano. One by one the drums entered, followed by flawless guitar. Again, the music grew furiously with a terrifying resolve to chaos and back. Every time the song seemed to wind down, it entered a new segment or arrangement.

Bayliss welcomed Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret to the stage featuring Jeff Coffin and a couple of other gentleman on horns. "Bad Friday," a new song that the band debuted that evening followed. The horns chopped hard in funk fashion adding an incredible layer to an already phenomenal output. High pitched vocals further contributed to the funk feel as the horns took off in three part madness. "Bad Friday" concluded the first of three sets as the lights came up. The first set was great and reflected a band at the top of their game. It was clear they were enjoying themselves in Colorado and the Denver crowd intended to do the same.

"How are you doing, Colorado?" Bayliss inquired, returning to the stage. "We got two hours left of 2013, so you got to make it count people, alright? You gotta try a little harder."

"Smells good out there" Jake stated.

"40's Theme" kicked off set two with a massive climb and a horn section on fire. Jake and the horns matched perfect tones before jumping into his vocal responsibilities. Entertaining Bayliss rapping turned back into heavy riffing and shred. Lounge style space jazz transformed the Fillmore into a dance hall as solos were passed around the horn section. Minds were blown and if we were in a swanky motel, babies would have been made to the sweet sounds of Mad Dog's Filthy Secret. "13 Days" came next changing time signatures at the drop of a dime. The horns exited the stage and UM debuted "Twilight Zone" by Dutch rock band, Golden Earring. Beyond killing their own material, Umphrey's covers a wide range of material dissecting the songs with flawless respect and honor while adding a hint of UM to the mix. In the middle of "Twilight Zone" the band teased Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train!" Complete and utter music devastation ensued before returning to the original cover.

"So, I'd like to dedicate this next song to a good friend of mine who's name is Dave, he's out there. He taught me how to play 'Stairway To Heaven' and I was in a band with him in high school and in college and they kicked me out of the band in college. Then I met Pony and we wrote a song call 'Hajimemshite' and here we are now. So, Dave, this one's for you," Bayliss said offering a glimpse into his musical past.

"Pay The Snucka" began with "Stairway To Heaven" teases before going into the band breakdown. The middle section had sort of an electro jamtronica feel with wailing space synth and staccato guitar. Everyone dropped out and all that was left was Jake wailing flawlessly surfing through arpeggios, before UM dropped the heat again. Another pit broke out in front of us, only calmed by Joel's note bending synth solo. As he did the night prior, Joel rose to the occasion, impressing the hell out of me. UM thrashed towards the end of the song and then thrashed some more.

"That's Joel Cummins, the keyboard wizard, people," Bayliss stated accurately.

Meandering guitar quickly turned to shred for a few bars before falling back to the original slow build of "Utopian Fir." Tension built through crazy musical tangents and intentional stuttering and slipping guitar. The band climbed, peaked, returned to the valley and peaked again before resolving to the song's reggae riff. Dub laden effects created another sonic circus for a brief moment. "Utopian Fir" transitioned into "Booth Love" with fitting flow and the return of the horns. A funky jam over took the mid section of the song, elevating an already great composition withe danceability.

"Are we having fun yet, Colorado?" Bayliss asked. "We'd like to dedicate this to all of our friends back home in the mid-west. It's officially New Years there, so... Hold on people, we still got an hour," he responded to elevated excitement in the crowd. "This one goes out to all the east coast and mid westerners who are already in 2014!"

"No Diablo" kicked off in cheery pop fashion, triggering smiles and dancing from the stoned crowd. The horns added quite a bit and a short five minutes after it began, it was over. To close the second set Umphrey's and the horns dove into Phil Collins' "Sussudio." Again, the cover was perfect and so well executed. The packed Fillmore danced carelessly, in true celebratory fashion.

"Thank you all very much! Enjoy the last of 2013. We got one more set, so pace yourselves people," Bayliss said with fair warning.

Smiling, wide-eyed, intoxicated Coloradans hugged and celebrated the final minutes of 2013 furiously. A short time later the band returned for the transition into 2014 and an insane third set, which began with "Hurt Bird Bath." The transitions were as impressive as always, with the band nailing every cue. As a fan of HBB, I must say, this may have been my favorite version of all time. It seemed so polished, perfect and so well executed. More heavy output from Joel was welcomed as Bayliss called out the five minute warning. Thick jamtronica coupled with screaming horns built to epic heights as Bayliss counted it down. Balloons and confetti fell from the rafters as the band transitioned into "Auld Lang Syne." Balloons exploded sounding like cannons in between songs.

"Happy New Year, Colorado. We're so glad you chose to spend your time with us," Bayliss said.

UM debuted Funkadelic's "Hit It and Quit It" for its first full selection of 2014. Heavy horn work weaved in and out of screaming vocals. The jam was extremely funky and featured the horn section at their best. "Wappy Sprayberry" came next to the delight of the loose crowd. As expected, the song hit epic heights before crashing down in incredible resolve. "Wappy Sprayberry" transitioned into "Miss Tinkles Overture," reflecting a sort of modern day battle hymn as UM marched to the front line with an insane arsenal. The mid section got about as low as the band had gotten that night, in an attempt to take on one of the biggest climbs of the evening. Bayliss stepped up and threw down some of his newer improvised sounding lyrics to the mix, before the climb continued. A barrage of sound assaulted the Colorado crowd as Umphrey's set it up and knocked it down repeatedly. I was in awe by what we continued to witness that evening as I had never seen anything like it.

Mad Dog's Filthy Little Secret was brought back out for "Bridgeless," leaving no room for a lull. Every time the crowd would expect a left hook, they would catch a right from the band. Just when the crowd thought they had the band figured out and knew what was coming next, UM would lay them out with a massive uppercut, figuratively putting The Fillmore on its back. "Bridgeless" went directly into Howard Jones' "Thing Can Only get Better," with a sweeter sentiment to debut the song. A funk swagger paved the way for Bayliss to lay down some sensual vocals, complimented by the horns. Once again the crowd was treated to the return of "Bridgeless," to close the wildly impeccable set of rage. Before its conclusion the band once again peaked heavily and with incredible intuition all the way to the close of the composition.

UM returned to the stage for some hilarious banter and a congratulations to Colorado. Within' a few hours, the first legal sales of recreation cannabis would begin to take place. Following in the New Year theme the band launched into "Resolution" with a jump in their step and accompanied by the horns. The middle section included an "Auld Lang Syne" jam that was followed by some interesting chaotic breaks before heading into a debut of Kool & the Gang's "Funky Stuff." First the horns took off, then Joel with the guitars shortly to follow as the show wound to a close. The band thanked the grateful crowd and announced their return to Red Rocks this summer.

That evening reflected the incredible potential of Umphrey's Mcgee and upon the show's conclusion, I felt that everyone there owed the band more money. What the Denver, CO crowd witnessed that night was nothing short of greatness. Personally, I have never heard that level of high energy musical perfection and I have been seeing the band for over a decade. That evening was the greatest rock show that I had ever witnessed and arguably one of the band's best performances, if not the best. In the days following Umphrey's New Years run there was a lot of discussion on the Colorado scene. Many were calling NYE UM's single greatest performance, while a handful of others focused on their experience in the intimate arcade. It felt good to fall in love with a band again and to see a room full of fans get their money's worth from a band that continues their climb to the top. Thank you, Umphrey's McGee!

Kevin's Photo Gallery

Umphreys McGee Live at Fillmore Auditorium on December 31, 2013.

Set One: Le Blitz > Phil's Farm > Ocean Billy, Mail Package, Wizard Burial Ground, Bad Friday[1]

Set Two: 40's Theme[2], 13 Days[2], Twilight Zone[3], Pay the Snucka[4], Utopian Fir > Booth Love[2], No Diablo[2], Sussudio[5]

Set Three: Hurt Bird Bath[6] > Auld Lang Syne[2], Hit It and Quit It[7], Wappy Sprayberry[8] > Miss Tinkle's Overture[9], Bridgeless[2] > Things Can Only Get Better[10], Bridgeless[2]

Encore: Resolution[11] -> Funky Stuff[12]


[1] debut, original; with Mad Dog's Filthy Secret horns
[2] with Mad Dog's Filthy Secret horns
[3] debut, Golden Earring; with Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne) teases
[4] with Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin) tease
[5] debut, Phil Collins; with Mad Dog's Filthy Secret horns
[6] with Day Nurse tease; unfinished; with Mad Dog's Filthy Secret horns
[7] debut, Funkadelic; with Mad Dog's Filthy Secret horns
[8] with Den teases
[9] "Jimmy Stewart" with lyrics
[10] debut, Howard Jones; with Mad Dog's Filthy Secret horns
[11] with Auld Lang Syne jam; with Mad Dog's Filthy Secret horns
[12] debut, Kool & the Gang; with Mad Dog's Filthy Secret horns


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