Umphrey's McGee 6.30 - 7.2.17
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Words by J. Picard
Photos by Doug Fondriest Photography
Not many bands are at a level where they get a crack at three, let alone two or even one night at the fabled Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO. For many musicians, Red Rocks is the pinnacle of the live music experience. The weekend leading up to July 4th, we had the privilege of attending three nights of Umphrey's McGee in Colorado and watching a couple of our friends perform on the edge. That weekend we would be joined by my brother-in-law, Jeremy, who was just getting into the jamband scene and the weekend would mark his first three night run. We would experience the spectrum of Umphrey's, party in the parking lot for hours and catch an after-show a short distance down the road. The weekend would encompass so many aspects of the live music scene and would continuously remind me of the magic that we're so often chasing!
Friday, June 30:
The Jeep was loaded with beer and with a quick stop for shitty tacos and no wait at will call, we were on lot early getting after it. Some kind folks asked for a couple of beers and proposed a trade we couldn't refuse. A line slowly began to take shape, but disappeared as soon as the doors opened and tickets were scanned. As we had never seen Stick Figure and it was our first Red Rocks show of the season, we headed in for the opening act. Laid back security was met by smiles from our team and inside we emptied and purchased beers prior to the hike down to fifty center. For the "white boy" reggae format, I dug Stick Figure. It was by no means complicated and potentially an odd fit for UM support, but had a roots vibe that translated beautifully on the rocks. At one point the band's dog wandered out onto the stage and chilled, prompting the crowd to cheer.
The venue filled in as the opening set came and went. Before we knew it, the space was just over three quarters full, which was a great start for the weekend! Many of the usual characters gravitated toward the meeting point and we were surrounded by friends by the time UM hit the stage! Intro music played through the PA and the seated crowd arose to greet their eventual slayers. UM lead off with "Prowler" and worked their way into the song before starts and stops turned into precise shredding guitar. The shred eased and the band went into the Brendan Bayliss ballad, "Upward." The mid-section opened up and a jammy, less structured section followed.
"Red Rocks, we missed you and you are beautiful. Thank you all so much for giving us this opportunity to play for you tonight..." Brendan said in appreciation.
"Higgins" entered the picture with its dub swagger, Bayliss up front on vocals and Jake Cinninger filling the spaces with more notes than there seemed to be room for in the measures. A variety of stylistic embellishments followed on the classic track that went into "Make It Right," with spacey affect. Kris Myers' heavy hands took center stage, complimented by Andy Farag's auxiliary percussion. Verses and choruses concluded with peaking dual lead from the front line and a shout out to one of their crew members on his thirtieth birthday. The slightly heavier "Phil's Farm" ascended, descended and resolved with some improvised riffs and chicken picking. The building process started deep in the valley, climbing back and forth along switchbacks before leveling out with a sort of electro-metal jam that dropped all of the way to the bottom landing on the beat for "Triple Wide" A danceable vibe overtook Red Rocks and as the sky grew darker, Jefferson Waffle's lights grew brighter. Joel Cummins' synth playing explored a couple of crunchy patches that appeased the youthful base. The song was a clear highlight of the first set, which concluded with Kris hitting some impressive notes on "Forty-Six & 2."
The lights came up on the energetic crowd and setbreak was under way. A conversation that began during set one, resumed with our friend Josh comparing the UM Red Rocks shows to the HBO series, Westworld. He expressed that I had been to the center of the maze and demanded that I tell him what was there. So I said "disappointment and broken egos." He smiled and accepted my answer. A short time later the house lights dimmed and the band returned to the stage, much like robots within' the park.
They worked their way into "Nothing Too Fancy" with Ryan Stasik digging into some heavy bass, at times leaning back into the groove. The energy built and built, arriving quicker at the rage than some of set one's endeavors. The music soared and became "Divisions," with Bayliss returning to the mic. An open drum section went back and forth with percussive guitar work before teasing The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony," another verse and turning towards a piano-laden valley heading into "Ringo." Jake handled the vocals with Bayliss getting his back. What followed was ten plus minutes of the more jammy side of Umphrey's McGee mixed with a little Satan. "Ringo" became a disjointed "Believe The Lie," that leveled out quickly with Bayliss' sweet vocals.
We headed out of the venue past illuminated massive red rocks and returned to our chariot. We pulled off of the lot through smooth traffic and I reflected on how the show we had just witnessed truly hit on the jammier aspects of Umphrey's McGee. I was excited for the next two nights, specifically to see my friend and client, Roosevelt Collier, perform his first Red Rocks show!
As we entered the freeway, a strong smell of gas overtook our vehicle and our fuel level began to drop rapidly. "We're losing fuel," I exclaimed passing one of the last exits before a wall-enclosed portion of the freeway. I calculated my options as I lost power, much like I assume Sully did as he landed the plane on the Hudson. As we approached the end of the freeway, we chugged along almost landing in a donut shop parking lot, thinking better of it and the possible tow that would result. A residential side street came into site and I made the turn pulling right into a spot with no time limits or residential permit requirement. We grabbed our belongings, I re-downloaded the Uber app, recovered my password and no sooner than I had ordered the car, it arrived. The gentleman drove us home and sitting on my couch I laughed about how no one got hurt, we didn't have to involve the authorities or a tow, the Uber costed us $9.80 and that our mechanic would fix the car in the AM. We dodged a bullet and ended night one at home safely in our bed...
Doug's Friday Photo Gallery
Set One: Goonville > Prowler > Upward, Higgins > Make It Right, Phil's Farm > The Triple Wide, Forty-Six & 2
Set Two: Nothing Too Fancy > Divisions > Ringo > Believe the Lie, Tribute to the Spinal Shaft > Phil's Farm > Nothing Too Fancy
Encore: Resolution > Divisions
 with Bittersweet Symphony (The Verve) teases
 with Norwegian Wood (The Beatles) tease
Saturday, July 1:
We found a centrally located spot down towards the front in VIP for Bokante's set. The band hit the stage with smiles on their faces and what a site it must have been to look up at the filling venue. The set was short, though in the thirty minutes the band made quite an impact, with driving drums and African rhythms. The interplay between vocalist Malika Tirolien and the group assembled by Snarky Puppy's Michael League was nothing short of stunning! Roosevelt glanced up at us towards the end of the set and made a face, triggering Carly and I to grin from ear to ear. We headed to the top to spend some time with our friends at fifty center and catch a little bit of Snarky Puppy. A couple of songs in I got a text from Rosie and headed down to do a Facebook live session with him for Element Music Festival.
"Yoga Pants" was dedicated to the band's children, with the shared sentiment of how good they have it to be at Red Rocks. The song was short and potentially the most mellow of the evening transitioning into "White Man's Moccasins" with enough tap and hammer-ons to appease a Chapman Stick player! Vocals subsided to some cool instrumental tones and shred. Bayliss once again thanked the crowd before "Remind Me." Even Brendan's vocals felt precise before the band began to pick up the pace and the tempo increased! The bottom dropped out and shit got intense! I looked over at my friends, most of which had their eyes closed. Joel called out the Snarky Puppy horns for "Bad Friday" to close the first set. The mid-section opened up the stage to the horns, which impressed from start to finish, as one would expect. Eleven minutes later the song peaked, concluded and the lights came up.
Following what felt like a solid set break, the band returned to the stage and kicked off round two with "JaJunk!" I headed down stage side. The peaking dual lead was pitch perfect and the drums and percussion of Myers/Farag joined by Sput/Werth of Snarky Puppy covered a lot of ground! Shredding guitar rained supreme as the crowd lost its collective mind. Bayliss wanted to "keep the party going" and called Roosevelt to the stage, who walked out with a big smile and hugs for the front line. Rosie plugged in, took a seat and the sold out crowd erupted with excitement as fireworks exploded above Red Rocks.
"This one's for all of our Canadian friends!" Brendan said.
Umphrey's gave a shout out to a fan from the fan's wife, who was home on their anniversary with the kids and Bayliss let him know that he would be "changing a lot of fucking diapers when he got home." It was a hilarious moment that I am sure shocked the shit out of the fan at Red Rocks! A bluesy "Mail Package" came with Joel on the organ and Stasik's bass nailing the low end. Jake yelled into the mic wildly and shit got goofy. Bayliss acknowledged the moon, Kris Myers offered up a sub-par Harry Carey impression and the set closed with a fifteen minute "Draconian." The composition felt like an epic story that built and introduced an array of musical characters and plots. As the band exited the stage, we slipped out of the venue through the side entrance to Upper North. As we climbed, UM returned to encore with "The Floor" to my delight!
We hit the lot with Rosie's steel in tow. We loaded up and headed a mile down the road to a bed and breakfast, where we pulled in to near silence. I poked around for a minute until we located a small dimly lit corridor that lead to a courtyard where folks had collected, waiting to see Genetics. We greeted everyone and headed down to a basement that felt like almost any college party that I had ever attended in Ann Arbor, with black light art covered walls. I was taken aback by the extensive collection of Scramble Campbell art. In the corner I saw Chuck Morris (Lotus) and gave him a big hug. A short time later, with a 2/3 MusicMarauders camera crew in place, the band took the stage (floor) and threw down harder than any Genetics show that I had experienced to date. After a few songs they called up Rosie and shit got wild. Following Roosevelt's performance, we snuck out of the cannabis filled room and delivered him safely to his hotel in downtown Denver for a 5:30 AM bus call to head on to High Sierra. We returned home to rest for one more day of rage!
Doug's Saturday Photo Gallery
Set One: Le Blitz > 40's Theme, Wappy Sprayberry > Crucial Taunt, Yoga Pants > White Man's Moccasins, Remind Me, Bad Friday
Set Two: JaJunk, Hajimemashite, Push the Pig > 1348, Mail Package, Draconian
Encore: The Floor
 with Chris Bullock on saxophone and Mike Maher on trumpet
 with Robert "Sput" Searight and Nate Werth on percussion
 with Roosevelt Collier on steel guitar
 with Jake on keys
Sunday, July 2:
Up at fifty center, a portion of the usual suspects turned out for evening's entertainment and geared up for one last ride. We settled in with a few joints and a short time later Umphrey's McGee took the stage for one last punch! "Nipple Trix" was called for the intro and a couple of minutes later they went into "Get In The Van," a strong start for the night! There was a lot happening, including Jake scratching on his guitar's strings with a pick, outputting a similar sound to turntables. The tension built and released, though still felt like it was building before concluding. Bayliss once again expressed the band's gratitude. "Speak Up" began, slinked along and included Bayliss' vocals. The song had the feel of a newer UM composition and reflected a refined track that turned it up to eleven before becoming "Booth Love." The song was wide open and translated nicely in the open-air venue.
Bayliss wished America a happy birthday and the band launched into "Wizard Burial Ground!" I clinched my fist and leaned into the music, getting smacked in the face by ripping instrumentation. At one point, I feared for my life. The song was one of the clear highlights of the evening. Stasik stepped up to the mic and mentioned that UM would be turning 20 next year, and that the "heavy metal tune" was for his parents on their anniversary. "August" began with some pretty bass harmonics and opened up to some Bayliss vocals and solid work from Joel on the keys. Arpeggio after arpeggio came from Jake's guitar, and not a note was missed throughout the run. Brendan asked the crowd who's first time it was at Red Rocks and surprisingly, there was a big roar, followed by a congratulations from Bayliss.
"So, we're going to bring up a good friend of ours. She's probably like my 24th or 25th favorite person in the world. Her name is Jen Hartswick..." Bayliss exclaimed.
"It's cool, you're way lower on my list..." Jen replied, as Kris hit the drums to signal the joke.
The band debuted and took a shot at Rush's "Red Barchetta." Jen belted, nailing the notes and as I looked down, the hair on my arm stood straight up. Upon the song's close, I texted Jen to tell her how awesome the song was. She texted me back "there's more." "Mulche's Odyssey" started heavy and built to an all out auditory assault, with ups and downs and highs and lows that bent the mind. Waful brought up the house lights to a full house at the 9,000+ capacity venue followed by "Slacker." The song featured some fantastic screaming organ work from Joel and Stasik in the pocket. Another classic, "Plunger" came down the pipeline with Bayliss' voice competing with Jake's guitar and a lot of sound coming from the stage. During the fifteen minute exploration, the band went to one of the lowest valleys of the show to start the slow climb to the top. That process was why many of us were present.
The weekend featured a true powerhouse band ascending the metaphysical mountain to the top of their scene, with three extremely successful nights of high level output in one of the country's premier markets. The catalog of songs, the incorporation of guests, the risks the band took and the precision of what the band does is reflective of an incredible product that seems to always surpass its ticketed value. When we think about Umphrey's McGee, it's time we see them on the level of the tier two bands, such as The String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic. It's now the era of Umphrey's...
Doug's Sunday Photo Gallery
Set One: Nipple Trix > Get In The Van, Speak Up > Booth Love, Wizard Burial Ground, August, Cut Off > Ocean Billy
Set Two: Attachments, Day Nurse > 2nd Self, Red Barchetta, Mulche's Odyssey, Slacker, Plunger, Electric Avenue to Hell
Encore: Puppet String > Glory > Puppet String
 debut, Rush; with Jennifer Hartswick on vocals
 with Jennifer Hartswick on vocals