Umphrey’s McGee, Wilma Theatre, Missoula, MT – 3/25
Photo by Marc Shapiro from late last year
Umphrey’s McGee is one helluva potent musical mixed drink. The sextet has developed a reputation for mixing keys, time signatures and genres with equal parts deft precision and wild disregard for conventions, but unlike choose-your-own-adventure mindbenders a la Ween or Beck that keep you guessing who the artist is throughout entire albums, UM manages to blend everything together in a cocktail that still tastes decidedly like…Umphrey’s. It’s a flavor that loses some audience members in its Attention Deficit Disorder complexity, but those that develop a taste for it keep a running tab open, logging in as many live shows as they can with the knowledge that it’ll always be a new experience with just enough familiarity. The band’s Sunday night stop at Missoula, MT’s Wilma Theater on their Death By Stereo tour was no exception, bringing hordes of Umphreaks through the door to groove and geek out throughout the evening.
The group hit the stage shortly after 8 PM and slid into a greasy instrumental jam before dropping into “Flamethrower” featuring a crushing guitar solo from frontman Brendan Bayliss, whose understated guitar abilities are too often overshadowed by the stunning abilities of lead guitarist Jake Cinninger. Cinninger was indeed hot on Bayliss’ heels tearing through an incendiary lead during “Professor Wormwood,” bolstered by a dazzling light display that added to the dimensions of the band’s jams throughout the night.
UM were clearly having as much fun onstage as the crowd was out front, keeping the smiles and jokes rolling as the set continued. Bassist Ryan Stasik’s instrument was unfortunately low in the mix, but he made the most of being given a vocal microphone for the evening instead. “I got a whole lot of shit I shouldn’t say,” he remarked with a grin before the band dropped into a brand new tune, “Loose Ends.” They followed up by showcasing their ability to seamlessly stitch songs together, transitioning from a “Nothing too Fancy” tease into “The Haunt” and ending with an uptempo rock translation of their instrumental tune “End of the Road.” The band tossed in a cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ Cherub Rock for good measure before ending the first set with “Rocker. Part 2”
Second Set started with an extensive, quasi-electronica jam into “JaJunk,” filling the theater with a pulse that drew the audience flowing back into the theater from the setbreak smoke session outside directly to the front of the stage for a raucous dance party. This ability to ride steady grooves sets the group apart from most prog-oriented acts and is a strong point of the band they rarely took the time to explore this evening, but when they did the energy in the theater built to momentous heights. The band seemed fully warmed up for the entire second set, with Stasik reminding the crowd, “I told you it was gonna get fuckin’ rowdy” after the third song, “Through the Cracks.” Despite touring behind their latest album, only the album track “Conduit” made it into the setlist, highlighted by a scorching guitar faceoff between Bayliss and Cinninger. A crowd-pleasing cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time” before transitioning into “Cemetary Walk II” for the end of the set. The band’s encore started off with a rare take of “Got Your Milk (Right Here),” slipping into a long, deep-pocketed dub groove before tying the whole show together by revisiting their “Nothing too Fancy” tease from early in the first set. UM left a wide-eyed Missoula audience in their wake, fully reminded that the band will pull no punches in delivering the most explosive party they can, any night of the week.