Thinking to myself, “they’re really playing down their weirdness for this huge slot tonight,” I overheard a woman behind me: “I think I like them; they’re just really weird. Did he just sing about Trapper Keepers?” Weird is synonymous for Dopapod and vice versa, so pardon the repetitiveness.
“This is their attempt at toning it down,” I had to interject. “They just turned knobs, slapped basses, and jammed out for 15 minutes about a Trapper Keeper, or something like that. But, they’re actually playing a relatively straightforward set tonight.” As fans packed in for Umphrey’s McGee’s debut at the Tower Theater, Dopapod cranked the rock out, setting the mood for a long night of hard jamming ahead.
For my friend Chris and I, this was our third night of getting Umphed in a row. This night was special, though: we were back on our home turf, back with our UMPHamily. The previous two nights in Burlington, VT, and Hampton Beach, NH, respectively, were great, but Burlington’s Maritime Festival show drew a relatively subdued crowd and Chris had to drive us home in the middle of the night after the Hampton show— five hours away.
Philadelphia was basically our backyard. As I met up with some of my best friends from all over the Northeast (and a new one from Atlanta), a warm sense of serenity washed over me: this was exactly where I belonged in the universe. Umphrey’s took the stage and showered a foreboding “Bathing Digits” onto us, and my hands involuntarily reached to the heavens, pointer fingers fully extended, crossed, and displayed Umph-horns for the world to see.
The Tower Theater, a classic movie house built in 1927, had an historic feel to it with trellised boxes upstairs and pillars climbing the height of the stage on both sides. Downstairs was a wide open symmetric room, where the approximately 3,000 fans were confined in a tightly packed sea of people that would sway gently and heave aggressively throughout the show, depending on the band’s climate.
From night to night, you never known what you’re going to get at an Umphrey’s show. UM is that friend who is the life of the party, yet inherently a loose cannon. It is only an educated guess whether you’re going to get a melodic old friend in “The Fussy Dutchman,” or a brashly combative “Wizard Burial Ground;” a persistently rebellious “Mulche’s Odyssey,” or a rambunctious yet contemplative “Der Bluten Kat.” At the Tower Theater, we saw all these faces of Umphrey’s.
Whenever you get “Glory” and “Hajimashite” in the same night, the universe is aligned in your favor. Throw in an emergency 11-minute dance party known as “The Triple Wide,” and the start of “In The Kitchen” early in the first set and the end late in the second, and an Umphrey’s show is materializing. With an emotional cover of The Police’s “Driven To Tears,” a “Puppet String” sandwich encore, and a few other originals and teases, Joel Cummins and the Cookie Bandits brought their “A” game to rock UMPHilly late into the night.
Set One: Bathing Digits > The Fussy Dutchman, In The Kitchen > Mulche’s Odyssey, The Linear > 2X2, Der Bluten Kat > Amble On > Der Bluten Kat (1)
Set Two: The Triple Wide > Cut The Cable, Driven To Tears > Hangover (2), Educated Guess, Hajimemashite (3) > In The Kitchen, Synchopated Strangers, Wizard Burial Ground
Encore: Puppet String (4) > Glory > Puppet String
 with It’s About That Time (Miles Davis) tease
 with Proverbial teases
 with White Man’s Moccasins tease and Den jam
 with Simple Gifts (trad.) tease