Umphreys McGee, The Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL- 3/10
Umphrey’s added another feather to their cap when it comes to venues in their hometown of Chicago. After selling out the Aragon Ballroom for a New Year’s run, they packed the classy and historic Chicago Theatre on Friday, March 10. The show was short, but sweet. They featured a lot of their newer material, but also treated fans to a few old school favorites as well.
For the most part, the first set was slow and melodic not that there is anything wrong with that. I guess it’s kind of expected in a theatre where ushers lead you to your seats. It kicked off with guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger on acoustics for “Uncle Wally,” which began strictly as an acoustic song, and the stirring instrumental “The Pequod.”
I was rather unimpressed with my first “Eat,” but I’m sure the hard-rock flavored instrumental will get better with time, as do most of their songs. Case in point, “The Triple Wide,” a dance-driven monster that added some energy to a laid-back first set. A few years ago when this debuted it was pretty weak a monotonous, boring and short instrumental. Now, it’s one of their best throw-down vehicles.
The first set also featured an appearance by R2D2 as Cinninger bent down for the Moog on the outro jam of “Out of Order” and my debut of “Morning Song,” a new Bayliss tune showing off his strong vocals and knack for thoughtful lyrics.
A stellar “August” made the show for me. The band’s first song ever remains one of their top tunes in my book. And this rendition was on point; I would go as far as saying one of the best versions ever. Not only it was clean and crisp, the middle jam was almost as climactic as the finish. For the final two minutes, Bayliss nailed the solo. For fans of the song, this “August” will raise the hair on your arms more than once.
Another big musical moment was the debut of “Liquid,” a track from their forthcoming album, Safety in Numbers. The song is also on the recent album from Jake Cinninger’s original band Ali Baba Tahini. I’ve only heard the album version once or twice, but Umphrey’s took it to the next level with an extended ending to finish up the second set. This song has a lot of potential.
Atmosphere is a big part of any show – and getting more and more important to me. Having some personal space, being able to see and not having people talking and constantly walking past is definitely a bonus. No lines for the bathrooms and bars don’t hurt either. With seats in the Mezzanine (the small area between the floor and the balcony), there were no worries about thru traffic or space invaders. I was able to a get a perfect line of sight and sound for the show.
The lights were better than ever. Maybe I didn’t notice them at NYE, but the lights were quicker and more colorful than I ever remember in the past. Kudos to lighting director Adam Budney and to the band for continuing to reinvest to make the live experience better and better.