The Scene: After parking about 8 blocks away, we approached the The Fillmore and were immediately greeted by a sea of fingers held high in the air. The show had sold-out earlier in the week and apparently a good sized group of fans got left out in the cold. Once inside, openers Jimkata were on-stage and we wandered around checking out some of the new photos on the wall, and admiring the evening’s two posters (the official event Poster and the one available through Conscious Alliance). By the time Umphrey’s McGee came on it was pretty damn crowded as you got up by the front of the soundboard, but there was plenty of dancing room toward the back of the floor as long as you could avoid the sloppy drunks who seemed to be trying to spill people’s beers.
Umphrey’s McGee: Before I talk about this show, there are a couple of things I need to get out of the way right up front. For one, what I witnessed on Friday night at The Fillmore solidifies in my mind that Umphrey’s McGee is without a doubt one of the tightest and most cohesive Jam bands playing today. They seem to think with one brain as they deftly transition from an intricate prog jam, to a deep funk pocket, and out into an intense metal climax. While it’s truly amazing I’m not sure I’d be half as intrigued with watching what was going on up there if Jeff Waful wasn’t behind the light board. This man is a genius, pure and simple. I know that many Jam fans think that Phish’s Chris Kuroda is God’s gift a lighting rig, but let me make it clear, Waful is every bit as good, if not better! His use of color is masterful and it’s clear that he is patched into that single brain that the guys are working off of up on stage because he seems to know what they are going to do a split second before they do it. It’s a true meeting of the minds and it’s a beautiful thing to witness.
The band opened up with a raging “Gurgle” and right off the bat we got to see why Umphrey’s has been steadily rising toward the top of the Jamband scene. Guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger traded scorching riffs as the rock-solid rhythm section of Kris Myers and Ryan Stasik thundered behind them. In less than four minutes these six men built the instrumental tune to a creshendo that left me wondering what they could do to top it. It was prog influenced jam rock at it’s finest, and we were only one song into the night.
What followed was an excursion into the weird and wacky side of Umphrey’s as they dropped “40’s Theme” on the ravenous crowd who eagerly participated and screamed the chorus back with passion. As if to show the newbies in the room that they can do more than rip out raging prog-jams, they broke the song down for a keyboard solo from Joel Cummins and gradually pieced it back together until they once again had the entire room in a frenzy.
From the very first notes of “Ocean Billy” the crowd knew it was in for an epic and wild ride. Clocking in at well over 20 minutes, the tune was the longest of the night by far and allowed the band to really stretch out and give their hardcore fans a look at their darker side. As the song swirled around me I was impressed with the strength of the vocals and found myself loosely comparing what I was hearing to bands like Yes, The Police and even the more psychedelic days of The Beatles. Though it meandered at times, the band never failed to bring the song back together and punch out the intensely orchestrated composed sections of the tune.
The pairing of “Miami Virtue” and “Morning Song,” which was dedicated to “all the lovely ladies up here in front,” allowed the band to venture from an electronic and almost trancey dance jam within “Virtue” to the bluesy and Gospel influenced sections in “Morning Song” that flirted with the dark side to the delight of thousands of screaming fans. Umphrey’s wrapped up the set with “In The Kitchen” sandwiched around “Glory” and took a well deserved break allowing everyone in the room to catch their breath, freshen up their drinks, and stand in some long bathroom lines.
Coming out of the gate, Stasik was the early hero of the second set with his intricate and melodic Bass solo that ushered in “Puppet String.” Though the vocals on this tune weren’t the strongest of the night, the raging prog metal jam that served as the climax of the tune was a highlight of the show for me. Building on the metal theme that they introduced with “Puppet,” the boys dropped into “Domino Theory” and showed off some of their heavier chops.
Though these guys tend to have surprises up their sleeves, I for one wasn’t expecting them to introduce Big Gigantic Sax player Dominic Lalli next, but that’s exactly what they did before they settled down into the spacefunk of “Booth Love” off their 2011 release Death By Stereo. Lalli’s stellar Sax work helped the band to show off yet another side of themselves as they stretched the tune out well past the 10 minute mark. They returned to more familiar territory with “August” and “The Linear” before building into the metal influenced in tightly orchestrated instrumental bonus track from Death By Stereo “Go To Hell.”
We got to venture back into the bands wacky side as they closed out the set with the reggae tinged “Ringo” that featured another stellar bass solo from Stasik that served segued the tune into “Voyager” and inject a little Space Disco into the dance party before slipping back into “Ringo” to wrap up the set. After a short encore break the ominous tones of “Hajimemashite” filled the room and were soon juxtaposed by the songs upbeat and lighthearted guitar part. The band closed the show with a one two punch that isn’t soon to be equaled by any body on the scene as they cranked up the Disco Funk with “The Triple Wide” and then blew a lot of minds as they dropped into the Michael Jackson classic “Billie Jean” to close an amazing and electric night of music.
Set 1: Gurgle >; 40’s Theme, Ocean Billy, Miami Virtue >;Morning Song, In the Kitchen >; Glory >; In the Kitchen
Set 2: Puppet String, Domino Theory, Booth Love1 >; August, The Linear >; Go to Hell, Ringo >; Voyager >; Ringo
Encore: Hajimemashite >; The Triple Wide >; Billie Jean
1with Dominic Lalli on saxophone
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light Show: A+