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Umphrey’s McGee, Orpheum Theatre, Madison, WI- 1/28

Photo by Kristine Condon

On Thursday, January 28th, Umphrey’s McGee kicked off their two night run at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, WI with special guest Joshua Redman. This was unquestionably the most anticipated show of the tour, promising a full set of 100% improvised music.

The first set soared through the band’s repertoire. From a tempered “Conduit” to the fresh baked “Attachments,” it was clear that despite the all-improv second set yet to come, Umphrey’s was not holding back. After all, it’s not every Thursday night they bust out “Get Your Milk (Right Here).” For many, the highlight of the set came in the form of “Syncopated Strangers> Den> Syncopated Strangers..” Umphrey’s eventually welcomed saxophonist Joshua Redman to the stage during the initial frame for “The Crooked One”, “Soul Food 1” and “Similar Skin”. The final tune featured a roaring Redman solo that was only contained by drummer Kris Myers, who used four drumsticks in a powerful showing to close the set.

The second half of the show featured songs being created entirely on the fly. In contrast to their annual UMBowl event, the only input from the audience began the set with a request from guitarist Brendan Bayliss, “Alright we need a key, somebody yell a letter out.” It was then decided that the key was “D” and Umphrey’s journeyed into a sexy bass driven jam.

This all-improvised set captured the creative force behind Umphrey’s mojo. From funky dance party to raging group improvisation, everything was brought to the Orpheum’s stage. Myers delivered a relentless back beat as Umphrey’s journeyed through a jam fairytale where each musical entity brought its own flavor. Needless to say, things got weird and there was little territory left to cover when all was said and done. The set feature both lyrical Jimmy Stewarts and a whistling break down that brought it all to a close.

Umphrey’s encored the show with “Hindsight” followed by “Don’t You Forget About Me” which was dedicated to Joel’s father, Jerry Cummins, who recently passed away. Towards the end of the Simple Minds cover, Bayliss gave a touching tribute to the man who was very well known and loved by the Umphrey’s community.

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