Umphrey's McGee & Polecat 3.3 - 3.4.17

The Wilma
Missoula, MT

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media

Somewhere in between the realms of groove and shred lies Umphrey’s McGee, vigorously straddling each side. They’re closer to Rush than Phish, but ostensibly cater to the jam band world through deep connections with festivals such as Summer Camp and Dominican Holidaze. Their flawless segues sound as if they’ve been crafted in a recording studio, but often times only stem from their unique style of communicative jamming. It is when these lines are blurred that Umphrey’s McGee is at their best. Such was the case this past weekend in Missoula, Montana as they weaved seamlessly between vulnerability and technical prowess for two nights in Big Sky Country.

Friday March 3, 2017

Bellingham, Washington’s Polecat opened the night up. Their unique blend of bluegrass, reggae, and celtic is something that needs to be heard rather than explained, but they can play the hell out of their instruments, I can tell you that much. The main highlight to me was without a doubt watching guitarist Jeremy Elliott and drummer Karl Olson play off one another. It seems weird to say that about a drummer and a guitarist in a five-piece band, especially when there’s two guitarists, but I implore you to focus in on these two if you ever get the chance to see Polecat.

Umphrey’s began with their recorded introduction “You’ve Got The Wrong Guy” which turned into a heavy guitar riff that slid out into the funky, almost salsa-like “Speak Up.” “Mantis” opened the show up a little bit and provided the night’s first glimpse of improv, building to an intense peak before exploding into “Room To Breathe.”

Stopping to say hello to the crowd, guitarist Brendan Bayliss made note of the fact that Missoula was one of their favorite crowds last year. Something I would typically write off as eager hyperbole if I hadn’t also heard it from two different people before the show. People tend to do things with a bit more intent in Montana. A friend on our trip referred to them as “Montanimals.” Nothing is half-assed and it is perhaps the real reason why Missoula is referred to as “the Zoo,” not because of a slightly clever pun.

“The Bottom Half” threw some meat into the middle of the set, followed by the almost punk rock (until Bayliss starts singing) “Make It Right.” Some Joel Cummins G-funk poked its head out for a pleasantly meandering “Yoga Pants” that led back into “Mantis” to finish the set.

Prog powerhouse “1348” opened the second set and broke into an abnormally groovy jam for such a technical song. Cummins then worked his way over to his synthesizer and the transition into “Day Nurse” had begun before the previous song had finished. An unexpected cover of the Beatles “I Am The Walrus” followed and kicked off the finest segment of the night.

“Walrus” segued directly into the spazzmatic and funky “Tribute To The Spinal Shaft” which includes a jam that seems to be based around David Bowie’s “Fame.” The funk transformed into “Much Obliged” and kept the groove going until the emotional “Hajimemashite” brought the segment to an end.

The best segment of the night was immediately followed by the best jam of the night, a patient and well-developed “Intentions Clear” led by the type of spacey guitar I often yearn to hear Jake Cinninger play. The space, of course, then disappeared into the final segment of the raging “1348,” capping off the set before an eventual “40’s Theme” encore.

Coleman's Friday Photo Gallery

Set One: You’ve Got The Wrong Guy > Speak Up, Mantis > Room To Breathe, The Borrom Half, Make It Right, Yoga Pants > Mantis

Set Two: 1348 > Day Nurse, I Am The Walrus > Tribute To The Spinal Shaft > Much Obliged > Hajimemashite, Intentions Clear > 1348

Encore: 40’s Theme

Saturday March 4, 2017

The Wilma was packed tight with 1,400 Umphreaks for night two, most of which had traveled from far away because let’s face it, there aren’t too many things close to Montana. Don’t count them out though. The Wilma is one of the more impressive venues I’ve ever seen a show at and as mentioned earlier, those guys know how to get down. Missoula possesses the buck wild feel of the mountain and college town that it is, but with the quaint vibe you would normally expect from Montana.

Nothing was quaint about this night’s show though. Opening up with a scorching segment of “All In Time” > “Anchor Drops” > “2x2,” it became apparent that my expectations of a night of “big-hitters” would be met. After a well-balanced, if not Cummins-leaning first night, Cinninger had recaptured his throne early on with rapid-fire guitar work that culminated in the sludgy riff of “2x2.”

The acoustic guitars came out for Bayliss and Cinninger and it was time for “Uncle Wally.” Probably my favorite song that they play acoustically, it was a treat to hear this pretty and groovy tune live. Just Bayliss kept his acoustic out for what was by far the rarest setlist choice of the night, a cover of Tenacious D’s expectedly goofy and outrageous “Kielbasa Sausage,” performed for the first time in fifteen years.

The creeping “Draconian” broke into a decidedly funky jam that segued into a set-closing “Partyin’ Peeps” nearly twenty minutes later. A rock & roll first set was in the books and had left a lot of the dancier tunes still to be played.

The band was apparently on the same page as us, opening with the 80’s dance rock excursion “Wappy Sprayberry,” segueing directly into the hanging and exaggeratingly funky “Ringo.” Always a pleasure to get a Cinninger song, this may be my favorite one. The contorted riff acts mainly as a vehicle for Cinninger to play around on, extorting some very interesting rhythms.

After a peaking “Out Of Order” jam came “Bridgeless,” a song that never fails to jack me up. A brief, but beautiful section followed the typically in-your-face introduction, segueing into “Bad Friday” before finishing the song. Accented with funk stabs on guitar and an arpeggiated synthesizer melody, “Bad Friday” will put a smile on my face more often than not, especially once the unfortunately catchy chorus rolls around.

The remainder of the show involved a great deal of circling around back to what had been started, with a soaring cover of Derek and the Dominoes “Layla” leading back into the rest of “Bridgeless” and a “Booth Love” > “All In Time” encore. The encore segue was well-executed and even brought upon a “Den” tease that had us wondering if they may squeeze a third song in for good measure.

Coleman's Saturday Photo Gallery

Set One: All In Time > Anchor Drops > 2x2, Uncle Wally*, Kielbasa^, Draconian > Partyin’ Peeps

Set Two: Wappy Sprayberry > Ringo, Out Of Order > Bridgeless > Bad Friday, Layla > Bridgeless

Encore: Booth Love > All In Time


* Jake and Brendan acoustic
^ Brendan acoustic


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