Umphrey’s McGee / Keller Williams, War Memorial Auditorium, Nashville, TN – 2/18
Photos by Brad Hodge
The historic War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville is a breath-taking site that added value to a much-anticipated show. The massive stairs leading to the arena were haunting; fueling my excitement I caught a glimpse of the colossal pillars encompassing the theater. Littered throughout the Romanesque building and fountains, were sad faces desperately looking for tickets to this sold out night with Keller Williams opening for Umphrey’s McGee.
Keller rewarded the fans that came early by inviting Brendan Bayliss from Umphrey’s McGee out for some early fireworks to start his set. The commencement left little doubt the night would deliver on the high expectations as the pair opened with “Gate Crashers Suck,” while the audience sang along to the brutally poignant lyrics about the embarrassing riot at Deer Creek in 1995. This anthem fittingly gave way to a satisfying version of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend Of The Devil,” with Brendan’s delicate guitar work and his ability to harmonize with Keller’s passionate voice, just elevating the song. We were only two songs in and the fuse had already been lit. Mr. Bayliss exited the stage leaving K-Dub in a familiar spot, alone to entertain thousands. He achieved this by playing and recording a tonal pattern with an instrument, then looping it, following with others in the same manner until he was performing with an array of sounds. Over the next hour he more than warmed up the crowd with his uncanny talent, touching on songs that spanned his entire career.
Umphrey’s McGee followed and the group did not let a bit of energy out of the room, opening the show with a dramatic “Words” > ”Got Your Milk (Right Here.)” The band was razor shape from the first note and “Words” was played with the conviction of a show closer with Brendan and Jake Cinninger’s guitars dancing as one during the melodic jams. Three songs in, the band was dropping “Spinal Shaft” teases throughout an inspired “Robot World” before Keller Williams joined in for “Partyin Peeps” and took this staple to a new dimension as he played guitar while joining in on vocals. The tasty set concluded with “1348” and the song, much like the first set, changed speeds and styles, frequently becoming a musical rollercoaster, with the audience primed for the ride.
More than anything, Umphrey’s McGee is revered for its ability to improvise, seemingly taking every style of music and fashioning something new. This creative risk taking was evident throughout the inventive second set. It started innocently enough with a straight forward “Spires” before exploding into the heavy metal inspired “Padgett’s Profile.” Ryan Stasik’s gymnastic bass playing shined during this instrumental, supported by drummers Andy Farag and Kris Myers. There was not a freak in their seat when the band delivered the unpredictable “Nothing Too Fancy,” which saw everything from Frankie Valli to Van Halen thrown into the madness. It is fun to watch a band take so many chances on a nightly basis to create a unique experience. The Marshall Tucker Band classic “Can’t You See” helped clear up confusion if only for a song. It was a pleasant cover and the last chance to catch one’s breath. The rest of the set was Umphrey’s at its best. “Sociable Jimmy” sandwiched an almost complete “Jimmy Stewart” for a solid twenty minutes, as the band put an exclamation point on an incredible night of music. The encore was fitting in the form of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” as it sent an elated crowd reeling to find their way home.