Umphrey’s McGee, Fort Collins, Boulder & Denver, CO- 1/22-24
With the first three shows after the official release date of their new CD, Umphrey’s McGee chose to take a run along Colorado’s Front Range. Mantis, the new studio album that has been marketed and released in an innovative and exciting manner, has generated a lot of buzz among Umphrey’s fans and the Jamband world in general. The new songs, along with a new lighting system and lighting designer in Jeff Waful, are creating a whole new experience at the shows. But make no mistake about it, this is still Umphrey’s doing what they do best; rocking the socks off anyone and everyone who comes through the doors.
FORT COLLINS, CO- 1/22
The first of the three shows was held at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins. While the Aggie is my home court and I love her to death, I’ll be the first to admit that a sold out show can become a bit overwhelming due to the amount of people that are allowed in the relatively small space. This balmy Thursday night found the Aggie packed to the doors, but this time around no one seemed mind the heat being generated both off and on the stage. Sweaty bodies were pressed shoulder to shoulder while trying to find their grooves, all the while intent on sharing a new experience with one another and the band.
There seemed to be a palpable nervous excitement emanating from both the band and the fans. It appeared the guys played the new songs close-to-the-vest in terms of outward expansion and exploration, but that’s just a nit-picking observation on my end. They came out looking and sounding great, and with the help of their new lighting (which, by the way, is a sensory shot to the cranium that pleases all areas of the body), the fellas hit their marks and played a solid show. Five new songs were displayed — four for the first time live — along with some dandy "old stuff" and one hell of a back-breaking cover.
Minus an opening band, Umphrey’s hit the stage around 9:30. A very appropriate "Search 4" opened the show and found the guys aptly singing "There’s nothing more we need/Just a little sympathy/The time couldn’t be more perfect." A raucous "Bridgeless>Sociable Jimmy>Bridgeless" closed out the first set and in the process got the crowd dancing and singing while wetting the appetites for what was to come second set.
The second set opened with what may be my favorite song off the new album (I’m still undecided at this point). "Cemetery Walk" was played very close to Album Standard Issue, but the correct notes were hit with authority and guitarist/vocalist Brendan Bayliss belted out the lyrics with pristine precision. "In the Kitchen" followed and delivered my personal jam highlight of the night. This nineteen-plus minute version offered insight to the fact that the band is growing both musically and personally, allowing time to feel each other out and take a jam to whatever realm they deem necessary. The familiar notes of tune eventually morphed into an all out electronica-inspired dance party that left all heads spinning. A few songs later the only cover of the evening showed its face. The Talking Heads’ "Making Flippy Floppy" was played in its usual happy-bounce synthed-out manner with percussionist Andy Farag leading the band into a one minute tease of the White Stripes’ "Seven Nation Army". A tight and well played "Preamble>Mantis" encore closed out the evening.
A solid and energetic way to get the three night run started.
BOULDER, CO- 1/23
Night two found us at the much roomier and eye appealing Boulder Theatre. I caught myself multiple times, both before and during the show, gazing upward at the two-storied dome ceiling (it appeared to be domed, but someone correct me if I’m wrong).
If the Fort Collins show was a two and a half hour warm up, then the Boulder show was a two and a half hour climax. Having got "the first show of the CD release tour" out of the way, Umphrey’s came out on fire and didn’t let up until the final note.A couple songs into the night, "White Man’s Moccassins" made its thunderous appearance and Andy Farag danced his little feet about the place. "Partyin’ Peeps" followed and offered paid assurance by the band that this would be the night. During "Peeps" a show was put on display, as keyboardist Joel Cummins danced around the dual-guitars with various sounds, eventually leading into a rising, climatic battle between Bayliss and Jake Cinninger. A heart attack-inducing "Nothing Too Fancy" double meat sandwich closed out the first set.
I have to make a point at this juncture. I feel I’ve seen my fair share of live music in various settings over the last five or six years: houses, clubs/bars, auditoriums, stadiums and outdoors festivals. The point being, I suppose, is that the second set of this show made me feel something I haven’t felt in quite some time. And I’m not talking about extra curriculars…I’m talking about a band playing with so much ferocity, feeling and timing that it created a perfect storm. I found myself standing in amazement at what I perceived to be musical perfection relative to the moment. I wish I had enough time to pay homage to each song that was played. But for now, I’ll focus on the final half of the second set as the major highlight. "Alex’s House" offered the ultimate waist-shaking, foot-twisting, kiss your-neighbor-on-the-lips groove. This was immediately followed by what I like to call Standard Dirty Umphrey’s. "1348" is a heavy song off the new album and was played with all the metal and grime you could hope for. After a few minutes off stage the band returned for an inspired "Mulche’s Odyssey" that found bassist Ryan Stasik layin’ some low lying slap beats. Just as the song was ending Cinninger appeared ready to take his strap off when the band broke into Zeppelin’s "Immigrant Song." Three and a half minutes of bedlam.
As the show ended and people were shuffling out, one word kept floating around: Wow.
DENVER, CO- 1/24
It was fitting the three night run would end in a place like the Fillmore: spacious, inviting and, dare I say, with a touch of grandeur. It seems that all the venues across the country bearing this name inexplicably have an aurora attached to them created by the deep seeded roots of the original in San Francisco.
Walking through the doors, my head was still spinning in a sea of bewilderment and afterglow from the night before. A quick stop by the coat check, the purchase of yes, a $7 Miller Lite, and I was ready to finish the weekend in fine fashion.
The DJ tandem of Murphy v. Roots opened the show. An early start buy UM at 8:30 almost caught me off guard, but not quite.
The opening part of the show had a spacey, spin around the room vibe. Whether the band was still feeling the positive buzz of the previous night or not, they seemed noticeably loose. "Turn & Run" was a choice opener and displayed the beautiful jigsaw puzzle reverberations of Joel Cummins. A rarely played "Fussy Dutchman" was a nice treat early on. The first set was closed out with something I had been secretly hoping to hear live since I had purchased and listened the new CD: "Cemetery Walk> Cemetery Walk II.” Here Umphprey’s once again put their underrated electronica skills on display with that sequence, taking the album version of "II" and expanding it into a deep, dark throbbing pulse. It was fun to see the guys experiment with that for the first time in front of an audience.
If anyone was feeling tired by this point in the three night run, the second set of this final show dished up a mid-section with enough fat and meat to keep even the weariest in motion. "Hurt Bird Bath" displayed a great funk-jam midway in as Stasik, Farag and drummer Kris Meyers danced back and forth, eventually letting Cummins jump in along with ‘em. This was followed by one of my favorite Umphrey’s songs. "The Fuzz" started with that familiar slow, droopy sly intro, ultimately building into a crescendo of a Cummins/Cinninger battle royal. The playful notes of "Utopian Fur" followed and led into the dark, Drag-Net/People’s Court sounds of "Prowler." And for a ripe, tasty Cherry-on-top the band encored with the hazy and gritty Rolling Stones’ "Can’t You Hear Me Knocking."
Waking up the next morning and gathering my thoughts, a final conclusion entered my mind: While the Umphrey’s "sound" may not be pleasing to all ears —which is an obvious and natural thing — those who enjoy music and have respect for musicianship regardless what genre, will most likely recognize that Umphrey’s McGee is entering and inhabiting a space of their own. They are making the music they want and playing it the way they want, all the while doing anything in their power to please their fans. The talent and ability are limitless at this point, and I’m just glad I’m able to go and see these guys with no expectations and an open canvas, ready for whatever they wish to deal out.