Umphrey's McGee, Dweezil Zappa & Joe Russo's Almost Dead 7.2 & 7.3.16

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Morrison, CO

Words & Photos By Brad Yeakel (Opti Mystic Outlooks)

Saturday July 2, 2016:

With some of the best support since the Wonderbra, Umphrey's McGee took to Red Rocks for their first 2-night run at music's Mecca. I made my way in just before Dweezil Zappa's Special-Ops team of tactical musicians stormed the stage. The show was momentarily delayed due to a technical issue, but in time the band launched into a spectacle of theatrical, impossibly detailed, absurdly complex music. Given the Zappa family drama, Dweezil humorously jabbed back by calling his tour "Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F*ck He Wants," a fact that added to their incredible '80s medley of single-lyric transitions. While the "bit" seemed to go on forever, the medley was akin to channel surfing on the choices of an enthusiastic 80's music fan with ADHD. (Tom Sawyer, Another One Bites the Dust, Under Pressure, Billy Jean, Like a Virgin, Into the Twilight Zone, etc.) The talented multi-instrumentalists that Dweezil has employed reflected his father's ability to organize virtuosic players as much as playing the songs that echoed his father's incomparable guitar skills.

Umphrey's McGee kicked off their set with "Glory," a staple of their 4th of July repertoire, though unexpected in the lead-off spot. From there the MidWest sextet eased into a set that left me satisfied, but underwhelmed. Much like a good Christian girl, they seemed to be saving themselves. When Dweezil joined the crew, he deftly maneuvered from within the "Utopian Fir" jam with "Dr. Feelgood" teases before the whole team covered "Muffin Man," to the delight of the musicians and crowd alike. The three guitar-slingers took turns wailing and watching, enjoying the surrounding talent and contributing just the right amount of insanity.

Second set began and this prom-date of a show began to warm up to us. "Bridgeless" into "2X2," led us into a set that was anchored by a big "Bright Lights, Big City," and a hefty "Der Bluten Kat." The latter of which contained "I'm on Fire." While the execution was lofty, there was a casual sense of energy that left me wondering if the novelty of Red Rocks had become old news to Notre Dame's jamming alumni. Hard to imagine. It was weird, I didn't think they were "phoning it in," but with another night to go, they just weren't leaving it all on the field. Perhaps a smart move. The encore of "Booth Love" wasn't my first choice, but I was excited when they smoothly transitioned into "Miss Tinkle's Overture."

Brad's Night One Photo Gallery

Sunday July 3, 2016:

Arriving direct from a pool party, I raced to get inside before Joe Russo's Almost Dead began. This project had been incredible at Denver's Fillmore on their last Colorado swing, and I wasn't about to miss their Red Rocks set. The supergroup tackled the Grateful Dead canon with a zest and hunger unparalleled by any of the thousands of GD cover bands that roam the earth. Their ambition, talent, enthusiasm, energy, and respect for the material have transcended the role of a cover band, and become a new chapter and extension of the life of the Dead. Scott Metzger's vocal work was indistinguishable from Bob Weir's own, and the guitar work he and Tom Hamilton contributed lifted the jams into orbit around the Grateful Dead universe. Russo's drumming had more direction than Yale's graduating class, and Benevento dominated his keyboards like a Jake Arrieta no-no. With Ween's Dreiwitz thumping out low end, it was hard to miss even the original band. The collective drove classic cars down new roads like Hunter Thompson hauling ass to make last call. JRAD left Red Rocks a sea of smiles, and primed for Umphrey's 2nd effort.

As Bayliss and friends made their way on stage, the energy already felt more charged. They opened with one of my favorites of their newer material, "Attachments." The energy continued through "Ka Bump," before hitting material I didn't know as well. Despite my ignorance, I felt the flow of the set was better executed. A pair of acoustic songs led to Zeppelin's "That's the Way," and I marveled at the song's beauty. As "Out of Order" took it's place in the set, I felt the band had finally landed in their own skin. Just in time for "All in Time" which closed the set like a Williams sisters doubles match.

In the final set of the weekend, things got under way with "Mantis." Historically "Mantis" hasn't been my favorite of their songs (much to the dismay of my Umphreak friends), but this one seemed to get in my head. It wasn't particularly special, but I enjoyed the tune more than I have in the past. Unfortunately, it was unfinished, and instead transitioned into a Bayliss number, "Make it Right." They quickly regained my attention as "Triplewide" gave way to "Puppet String." I love "Puppet String," but seeing it and "All in Time" in the same show at Red Rocks seemed a bit like deja vu. While I was pondering, Jake led the band through "Hindsight." I'm not big on some of Jake's songs even though I find him to be the most talented musician in the band, but this one wasn't as painful as other "Hindsight's" I've heard. The set rounded out with "August" into "Hurt Bird Bath" and I was as happy as I was all weekend. After Brendan wished America a "Happy Birthday" more times than Michael Franti asks how you're feeling, the band laid down an encore that spoke to the occasion... "Much Obliged" into "Join Together."

The crowd carried the sentiment to the lots with a feeling of community and gratitude that was subtle and comfortable. What a way to celebrate America! From even before the opening "Glory" through the encore "Much Obliged" into "Join Together," the weekend was as American as freedom and hot dogs. UMerica!

Brad's Night Two Photo Gallery


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