Umphreys McGee, The Intersection, Grand Rapids, MI, Irving Plaza, New York City- 11/15 & 11/18
Umphrey’s McGee played five shows on consecutive nights from November 15th through the 19th that saw the band take it from the Midwest to the Big Apple. The week started off with a Tuesday show to a sold out crowd at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They would also play a Columbus show at the Newport, a Washington DC show at the 9:30 Club, and finish the week with two sold out shows at New York City’s Irving Plaza. Nothing against the big city, but the Midwest has and always will be Umphrey’s stomping ground.
The Grand Rapids show started with a very funky and bouncy “Hangover” that got the sold out crowd going despite drummer Kris Myers asking “How you doing Lansing, Michigan?” “Uncle Wally” usually not one of my favorites, was a nice surprise, with guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss trading off jazz licks in a small three minute jam that went right into the musical melting pot that is “Pay The Snucka (Parts I-III).”
The crowd swayed with the gangster groove of “Part I,” and in between “Part II” and “Part III” Cinninger changes it up with another jazzy interlude before bringing out the metal head in everyone, for “Part III.”
“Part III” also featured keyboardist Joel Cummins on The Moog Synthesizer for a solid long jam. After a long absence, the Moog has a whole new feel, the laser beam sounds are gone and Cummins has brought a new sound. Cummins shined again, flying over the keys on the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica.” The set finished with “The Fuzz>Jimmy Stewart>Miss Tinkle’s Overture.” “The Fuzz” segued into a Motown groove “Jimmy Stewart” with bass player Ryan Stasik starting a deep bassline and Cummins eventually bringing the Moog in again. Teases of David Bowie’s “Fame” gave way to a high energy but short, “Miss Tinkle’s Overture.” “Tinkles” had a wide ranging echo jam and the usual hard rocking, extremely tight ending, to close the set.
The second set started with a crowd pleaser with the Jammys Song of the Year, “In The Kitchen.” “Kitchen” has truly become a jam vehicle for Umphrey’s and it was no different in Grand Rapids. A very spacey intro left a lot of the crowd in awe until Bayliss slid over the first few signature chords of “Kitchen.” Cinninger again was a highlight lightly running his hands over the fret board in a octave style jam. Cinninger and Bayliss trade off taking the lead in what was an extraordinary “Kitchen” that slowly trickled into the calming chords of “Passing.” A relatively new song “Passing” gets better and better each time they play it. Building to a nice peak “Passing” went into “Get In The Van.” After letting the opening riff from “GITV” sink in a few times Cinninger and Bayliss are at their best harmonizing off each other in the metal riffs of “GITV.” “GITV” echoed into the highlight of the evening a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” Bayliss shows how much his lyrical range has improved in one of the most vocally challenging songs in Umphrey’s repetoire. Bayliss truly nails the first “No Quarter” in almost three years to a tee. “No Quarter” has a short “Jimmy Stewart” with Kenny Wayne Shepard’s “Black and Blue” teases into “Walletsworth.”
A very close second to the “No Quarter” was the ending of the second set “FF”> “Jimmy Stewart”> “It’s About That Time” jam> “#5”. Cummins leads with solid keyboard work out of “FF” for the “Stewart,” which bounces and forth between Cummins keys lead and a thick rock riff. Bayliss and Cinninger take the “Stewart’ into “It’s About That Time” which sends the crowd into a frenzy, as the guitarists shred over the Miles Davis tune, riding it to a beautiful peak before slowing droning into “#5” to close out the show.
The end of the show was smooth and seamless as Cummins leaves his loops going at the end of “#5” until the band returns for a crowd pleasing encore of “40s Theme.” All in all the Tuesday night sold out show was very good, if somewhat short, with both sets a little over an hour each.
Before the first of two shows at New York’s Irving Plaza, “The Big Lebowski” played with the color inverted on a projection screen, which was a perfect beginning to the night. Fittingly “Great American” opened the two-night run in New York City and it was easily one of the best versions played, much longer than usual. Exploring new ground in “Great American” Umphey’s ventures away several times before bouncing back to the heart of the song. “Great American” provides a very nice segue into “Andy’s Last Beer” complete with the crowd’s offbeat clapping. Cinninger brought out a jazz intro to start “Syncopated Strangers” and Cummins gives some nice ass rumbling bass notes before going into Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” which sent the sold out crowd into an uproar of cheer. It seemed as though some of the crowd was not that familiar with Umphrey’s material and “Immigrant Song” got the entire crowd into the show. After losing a little bit of flow with a very short “Roulette” the end of the first set picked up steam with the always manic depressive “Resolution.” The following “Stewart” featured an extremely good “Hajimemashite” jam that ended up being finished the next night. The “Haji” jam had a little bit of a sloppy segue into the instrumental “Prowler,” of my personal favorites, which leveled into long “Divisions” set closer.
During set break “Dazed and Confused” and “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” played on and off, as Dr. Dre played over the house PA until Umphrey’s came out to open with a high energy combination of “Triple Wide>Jazz Odyssey>Wife Soup.” Cummins brought in The Moog and started a small Star Wars jam before a very choppy and chaotic Jazz Odyssey that fittingly led into one of the best versions of “Wife Soup” to date. Cummins piano solos seemed a little longer than usual and very sharp, but the highlight of “Wife Soup” was Cinninger taking over with a huge solo in the song’s middle. Screeching, bending and generally just shredding all over the fret board.
After some compliments and banter, Huey Lewis (whose son is a college student in the city) took to the stage for “Bad Is Bad.” He directed the band with huge hand motions, and stayed on for another song of his request “Women, Wine and Song.” Lewis’s harmonica fit in surprising well in a very nice change of pace for “WWS”. After Lewis left the stage, it was right back into “Plunger.” Although it is not one of my favorites, the saving grace of every “Plunger” is when percussionist Andy Farag’s stellar work on the castanets is showcased, as they fit in perfectly. The extended “Plunger” jam led slowly into more of Cinninger’s madness as he keeps the crowd’s energy up with “Glory.” After a calming ending to “Glory,” “Bridgeless” takes the set to a flying tempo. “Bridgeless” holds the audience’s attention in a song that defines Umphrey’s McGee, compiled from five different “Stewarts,” “Bridgeless” is a pure Umphrey’s McGee song. Stasik holds the groove an solid bass line, as “Bridgeless” is a testimony to how good of a bass player Stasik is, not having to rely solely on the slap. The crowd seemed to grow more enthusiastic as “Bridgeless” had Bayliss and Cinninger harmonizing beautifully. Halfway through the song a girl to my left asked me what it was called, only to say five minutes later “Best Bridgeless EVER!” It was nice to see the crowd getting excited and getting into the show. Choosing to do one more song before ending the second set, Jeff Austin joined in for a bar room drunken karaoke classic of some classic cock rock we all know and love Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian.” Austin belted out a little improv lyrics, helping the crowd find what their price for flight happened to be.
For the encore, Lewis makes a return for his “Heart And Soul” letting Bayliss take vocals in the second verse. After Lewis left for the evening, Pay The Snucka (Parts I-III) made its second appearance in the week, but there wasn’t much room to complain. With an lyric change telling Stasik his fingers smelled just like Lou Pinella, Bayliss gives himself a nice chuckle, before Cinninger leaves the jazz in Michigan and goes all metal in a long intro to Part III. Cummins slides onto the Moog for a spacey jam while Myers, after nearly smashing through a drum, stands up to rile the crowd before ending “Snucka” twelve times. As everyone filed offstage Cummins left his loops going for the possibility of a second encore, only to have Stasik come back to slam off the amp.
The Grand Rapids show and first night of Irving Plaza were just a sampling an excellent week featuring some of the most high energy playing this year. Whether it was an amazing “Padgett’s Profile” in Columbus or, in one of the most fun shows of the year, (at D.C.’s 9:30 Club), which had Cummins on a concert grand, along with “Stairway To Heaven,” Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out,” and Tupac’s “Hit Em Up” jams (among many other teases) all over the setlist, it proved to be an excellent week.