Umphrey's McGee 12.31.15
Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Ben Wilson (Eye And Eye Photography)
Devout fans arrived early to the sold-out celebration at the Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium and helped to pack out the dancefloor well before the band took the stage. Although conditions inside of the venue were cramped, the spirit and positivity of 3700 music-lovers gathered in one space was quite impressive to behold. The band took the stage and took hold of the room’s vast energy, getting things going with an epic opening segment of “Bathing Digits” > “Wappy Sprayberry” > “Puppet String” > “Mad Love.”
“Wappy” spurred a massive dance party inside of the venue, and gave lighting designer, Jefferson Waful, his first of many opportunities to showcase his gigantic new light rig. “Puppet” allowed the band to get a bit more serious, both lyrically and instrumentally, with the evenings’ first significant jam. A patient, Ryan Stasik-led effort eventually saw the band segue into the intense newer original, “Mad Love.” The fluid, dual-lead guitar parts helped the song to ascend into the stratosphere as drummer, Kris Myers, held things down with rock-solid double-bass pedal work.
Set Two saw the band open up with groovy original “Bad Friday,” a fitting choice as the song was debuted at the Fillmore on 12.31.13 (the last NYE show in Denver). The horns then returned for jammed-out takes on three originals of varying ages. The eldest, “Wife Soup” featured a slow, patient build to the chorus that had audience members singing, “You wouldn’t even believe your eyes, it’s all your circus now,” well before the band finally obliged and played the chorus in earnest. “Red Tape,” a prog-rocker from 2009’s Mantis came up next, which was a big surprise to see as the song has long-since been removed from rotation. This song normally features an interesting synthesizer solo from keyboardist, Joel Cummins, but mixing issues made it nearly impossible to hear this part live. The jam section helped to redeem this unfortunate mistake, with Cinninger facing the horn section as they flawlessly doubled his notes, followed by a great solo from Bayliss.
After the horns departed the stage, we were treated to a stellar version of “Ringo.” The jam section saw Bayliss, Cinninger and Stasik all tapping simultaneously at its intense peak, before winding down into a stunningly beautiful full band tease of the Beatles “Blackbird.” Although Cinninger ran through several verses of the song’s guitar part, the vocals never materialized to complete the cover. Instead, Cummins pushed to the front of the mix with some spacey tape-delay effects before the band found their way into “Educated Guess.”
The conclusion to the set saw the horns return for takes on jazzy original “Example 1,” as well as the evening’s first cover, “Tempted,” by 1980’s Brit-rockers, Squeeze. Most of the crowd seemed to be familiar with the song and sang along, although it was the first time it had been played by Umphrey’s. The cover was well executed, with Bayliss capably handling the lead vocal part and the horn players executing to perfection.
After taking a pause to say "Happy New Year" to their families, the band got back to work. Cinninger began the next tune in half-time, slowly picking out the onomatopoeic main riff to UM mainstay “JaJunk.” As the rest of the band locked in and picked up the tempo, the room filled with jubilant vibrations. The easy groove of this song allowed everyone to get dancing, as each band member smiled brightly. This has always been of my favorite parts of watching Umphrey’s play; despite all of their success you can always see their genuine appreciation on their faces as they rock out.
After transitioning back to complete part two of “JaJunk,” the band invited the horns back to the stage. “Push the Pig” was taken to the next level with an extended horn solo section in the middle of its jam. The end of the song seemed briefly uncertain before Cummins ushered the band into “Space Funk Booty.” The expanded instrumentation only added to the supreme dance-ability of this track, and the raging third set only kept building here.
A hard-charging “40’s Theme” closed out the set, complete with “Regulate” teases, which made me feel as if the band was reading my mind. For the encore, the band performed a great version of funky original “Much Obliged.” This song has one of the most infectious funk breakdowns of any Umphrey’s song there is, and I always enjoy having it stuck in my head for several hours after I hear it. This jam wound up with the band predictably concluding “Bridgeless” from earlier in the show, an ending that was so big that nobody could have complained if it wrapped up the show.
As someone who has seen the last four consecutive Umphrey’s New Year’s runs, I was really impressed with this performance. I thought this was the most complete show I had seen them play on NYE. The cover debuts were strong and enjoyable, the improvisation was top-notch, the horn section integrated flawlessly, and the energy was easily high enough to get you through a three-set show. They pushed past their already high standard, which is exactly what I have come to expect.
Set One: Bathing Digits > Wappy Sprayberry > Puppet String > Mad Love, No Diablo, Bridgeless > Puppet String, Women Wine and Song, Speak Up
Set Two: Bad Friday, Wife Soup, Red Tape, Make It Right, Ringo > Educated Guess, Example 1, Tempted
Set Three: Bright Lights, Big City > Auld Lang Syne, JaJunk > Bitter Sweet Haji > JaJunk, Push the Pig > Space Funk Booty, Ignition, 40's Theme
Encore: Much Obliged > Bridgeless, Christmas In Hollis
 with Mad Dog and His Filthy Little Secret horns
 debut, original
 with Blackbird (The Beatles) jam
 debut, Squeeze
 with Wanna Be Startin’ Something (Michael Jackson) jam
 debut, R. Kelly
 with Regulate (Warren G & Nate Dogg) jam
 debut, Run-D.M.C.
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