Umphrey’s Night One: Waful vs. The Sun
This past weekend, my friend Chris and I jumped in the car to join our favorite band,Umphrey’s McGee, for an extra long weekend of rocking. For four straight nights in four different cities, our faces were melted with new and old friends alike. From the Adirondacks to the Atlantic, the Chi-town sextet kept the improg party raging all weekend.
Thursday night, lighting guru Jefferson Waful duked it out with the sun setting in the Adirondacks behind Lake Champlain, and UM rocked Burlington’s Maritime Festival
There was no gurgling to open the string of shows—Umphrey’s started the set with a tight version of “Conduit” at 6:32 p.m. sharp. Having shown up a minute late, we joined the mass of fans rushing to the outdoor waterfront concert grounds. Before fully settling in, UM wrapped up “Conduit” and the deliberate and unmistakable opening notes to “Ocean Billy” rang out across the lake. Guitarist Jake Cinninger bared his mean face and started warming up. “Ocean Billy” transformed into a “Day Nurse” sandwich. The dirty “Nurse” in the middle inspired the first big dance party of the night. With plenty of open space in the park, friends shimmied all over the concert field, driven by thudding percussion and whaling guitars.
Between the epic vocal conclusion to “Ocean Billy,” and the sharp live debut of “No Diablo’s” album choruses, keyboardist Joel Cummins joked “for once, we get the beautiful view.” The sun rippled off the lake, sinking toward the distant Adironacks for the night. Cummins—known for his unsuccessful “Goldside” presidential run in 2012—was full of jokes in Burlington. Later in the show, he had to remind one eager fan curled in a tent, “This isn’t that type of festival, man, we can only play til 9:45!”
The first mega-UMPHlosion of the weekend occurred during “Hurt Bird Bath”. A few minutes into the jam, Bayliss started shredding hard and Cinninger took up the challenge; the two guitarists stood stage-left, dueling it out with their axes. Kris Myers kicked the double bass into gear and Ryan Stasik set up front and center, foot perched on amp, sending out reverberating bass waves. Cummins and Andy Farag still rocked their dark black shades, looking and sounding as cool as ever through the heavy jam.
After a twangy “Mail Package,” Umphrey’s transitioned from face-melting to heart-melting mode during a beautiful rendition of “August”. The euphoric jam induced contagious smiles and had many shaking their heads and looking to the colorful summer skies in awe. The set wrapped up with a sing along of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” which left myself and plenty of other concert-goers with pleasantly wowed, deer-in-the-headlights looks. We staggered to the lakefront to reciprocate joy, recuperate from melting, and skip rocks towards the waning sun.
The second set started with the title track from Umphrey’s recently released eighth studio album, Similar Skin. Knowing looks shot through the crowd as the opening drum solo revealed the new hit. Like “No Diablo” earlier, “Similar Skin” stayed pretty true to the album version. Being the expert crowd-readers that they are, Umphrey’s transitioned into a heavily metallic “Go To Hell” as children laughed and kicked soccer balls, and retired couples nodded along from their lawn chairs.
The sun had finally tucked behind the mountains during the set break, and, with the twilight hour at hand, the seventh member of the band could finally play too. As the sky darkened and Waful’s rig lightened, “The Bottom Half” provided the funk. Stasik peered out into the magnificent atmosphere, singing into an invisible mic. Conical yellows and prism blue lights spun and twisted around him and the rest of the band. Pinks and greens and oranges melded together, transitioning and moving with the flow of the music.
“Resolution” was another sing along (when terrifying monstrous noises weren’t wafting from Cinninger’s area supplemented by quickly flashing red lights) and Bayliss reminded “it’s 11:42 all day” as the crowd swayed to “No Comment”. The second sandwich of the night was “Plunger > Drums > Great American > Plunger”. Farag sparked the killer drum solo and Myers escalated it to a slamming duet. Someone must have let Stasik into the maple syrup, however, as he got a little antsy in his pantsy; he snuck back to Farag’s chimes and his overzealousness reminded us why Andy should be the only one allowed to chime in. They managed to pull it back together, playing the Elizabeth Reed’esque “Great American” during which the light show turned into a spinning snowstorm of whitish lights. The long jam came full circle, closing with “Plunger’s” vocals.
A creepy, crawly, spacy version of “Dump City” closed out the second set and ignited a brief “We Want the Umph!” chant. It didn’t take long for the band to re-emerge for a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”. Everyone was elated to hear the familiar jam. What many may not have noticed, however, is that the concluding vocals to the evening came from Kris Myers perched back behind his drum kit. The raw emotion and power in his voice left me shaking my head in wonderment as the set concluded.
With that, the first leg of the run was complete. We had raged, and it was time to rest and then repeat.
In the end, Waful crushed the sun.
Set 1: Conduit, Ocean Billy > Day Nurse > Ocean Billy, No Diablo, Hurt Bird Bath, Mail Package, August, I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Set 2: Similar Skin, Go To Hell, The Bottom Half, Resolution > No Comment > Plunger > Drums > Great American > Plunger, Dump City