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Published: 2014/07/02
by Moray Stuart

Umphrey’s McGee, Brooklyn Bowl London, London, UK- 6/20

Photo by Al Stuart

In the country that gave the world the psychedelic noodlings of Cream, the expansive symphonic creations of Pink Floyd and the endless space-rock happenings of Hawkwind the lack of a British fan base for the jamband scene is perplexing. All that aside, on this evening the middle of three for Umphrey’s McGee at London’s branch of the Brooklyn Bowl the band played two sublime sets of Swiss-watch precision musicianship, mind-boggling complexity and kaleidoscopic eclecticism. That butterfly like flitting from style to style was exemplified in the chugging-metal-meets-pounding-acid-house opener “Nipple Trix” and continued in “Mantis” with off-kilter jazzy prog alternating with anthemic rock including exquisite twin guitar from Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss. In a more ‘pick a genre and stick to it’ mode were the power chord-mungous riffing of the aptly titled “Rocker Part 2” with Jake’s free-flying virtuosic tapping and shredding to the fore, and the glo-stick-and-whistle rave-tastic synth-led electronica of “Bad Friday.” Keys also featured heavily in the smooth disco groove of “Booth Love” with Joel Cummins’ extended fusionesque piano break. Closing the set was “Puppet String,” the first number taken from their latest release Similar Skin. Led by Ryan Stasik’s upfront, Squires-ish bass lines this opened out into an anthemic Zeppelinesque riffer before a mid-song switch to the dance vibes of “The Triple Wide” where the band once again displayed their turn-on-a-dime versatility with an extended Rhiannon tease and a storming, full-on death metal excursion into Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” before slipping back into “Puppet String” to finish: breathtaking!

Given the rarity of UM visits to the UK the decision to play an All Night Wrong covers set (dedicated to Lionel Richie on his birthday) could have been considered brave, but their delivery on the pomp of “Live And Let Die,” the sophisticated reggae of “Driven To Tears” and a gritty and sleazy “Cheap Sunglasses” was so accomplished only a curmudgeon could complain. Jake’s playing on “The Song Remains The Same” may have owed more to Dickey Betts than Jimmy Page but was none the worse for that and the guitar on the intro to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was simply awesome while the highly polished pop of “Let’s Dance” had the room bopping and singing along.

Despite stern warnings not to run late (due to London’s public transport turning into pumpkins at midnight) the band still slotted in a three song encore: two more new tunes, the lightning-flash staccato rocker “Cut The Cable” and the hammer-blow unison riffing and frenetic guitar pyrotechnics of “The Linear” were followed by old favourite “40s Theme,” its fiendishly complex time signatures and fusion-to-rock-to-disco genre-hopping encapsulating the UM experience. This was my first chance to catch one of Umphrey’s McGee’s rarer-than-hen’s teeth British stop-overs and even without a full Jeff Waful lightshow this performance more than lived up to my probably ludicrously high expectations. UK fans can only hope the boys aren’t discouraged by Britain’s apparent lack of good taste and give us a miss completely next time.

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