Umphrey’s McGee is a band that continues to test its limits with shows at larger venues and innovations in their progressive music. The Indiana-originated six piece takes their tight prog-rock and builds energy that eventually explodes before the eyes of their dedicated fans. Many of these die-hards have seen the band go from tiny clubs to somewhere as large as the Beacon Theatre in NYC. After two years of getting their feet wet, the 2124 Broadway venue was the host of yet another installment of ‘Umphlove’ for two nights before heading to Long Island and The Paramount in Huntington.
Friday, January 16 review by Garrett Montgomery
Following a five night New Year’s run in Atlanta and rocking Jam Cruise with a host of sit-ins, Umphrey’s McGee kicked off their first full tour of 2015 at the Beacon Theater in New York on Friday, January 16. The Chicago-based sextet kicked off 2014 in similar fashion at the Beacon on January 17 and 18, but this year they invited saxophonist Joshua Redman along for the ride.
Umphrey’s transitioned the opening song “You Got the Wrong Guy” into a straightforward “Cut the Cable,” the second track off 2014’s Similar Skin. They moved into an energetic “#5” during which drummers Kris Myers and Andy Farag demonstrated their incredible synchronization. Keyboardist Joel Cummins’ highlight of the night came a little later during a solo at the drop in “Walletsworth.”
Like last year’s Beacon shows, Brendan Bayliss’s vocals were on point all night, maybe no more so than during “Similar Skin.” Just a few measures into the 2014 title track, Redman came out wailing. He set up on guitarist Jake Cinninger’s side of stage. It did not take long for Redman and Cinninger to begin dueling and a “Hurt Bird Bath” to end the first set lit the room up.
Redman rejoined midway through the second set for another three songs, including another tune off Similar Skin, “Educated Guess” and old-school jam “Professor Wormbog.” The set began with Cinninger joining Cummins on the keys for “Nothing Too Fancy” and ended with a tight “Hajimemashite.” The band was crisp and the sound in the Beacon pristine, but the MVP was Jefferson Waful. He put on an unforgettable light show with precise timing and multiple layers and planes. From spinning gently intoxicating white lights during “Educated Guess” to jarring reds in “Ringo,” Waful has mastered lighting the Beacon Theater.
Set 1: You Got the Wrong Guy > Cut the Cable, #5 > Walletsworth, Red Tape, Similar Skin* > End of the Road*, Hurt Bird Bath*
Set 2: Nothing Too Fancy > August, Educated Guess*, Professor Wormbog*, Ringo*, Wappy Sprayberry > Hajimemashite
Encore: Let’s Dance > Nothing Too Fancy
The second of two nights kicked off with “Le Blitz” into a funky favorited number, “In The Kitchen.” They would look back at the first night by finishing “Wappy Sprayberry” in between “Miss Tinkle’s Overture,” raising the excitement for those doing both nights. Miss Tinkles contained a “Mind Left Body” tease from the famed Grateful Dead jam. Later in the set Joshua Redman would come in starting for “Great American,” through the end of the set. His contributions to “Made To Measure > Der Bluten Kat > Yoga Pants > Der Bluten Kat” were worth the price of admission alone. The string of four songs was seamless and had a natural flow to it. Their mobility on stage has harbored exploration that only seems to go farther from sea.
When set two rolled around, the expectations for a closing set at the Beacon arose. How would they end their statement for 2015 in New York’s prized theater? Kicking off with the guitar laced “Ja Junk” doused in prog-metal was not the wrong choice. Serving as a pallet for future segues and exploration, it has earned a spot in the hearts of all. A notable take on “Conduit” came a few songs later, giving an energetic 90’s guitar anthem feel. Bayliss and Cinninger split singing and solo duty for the second song of the second set, though it was a little more Bayliss-heavy for the rest of the night. The first cover of the night, The Pixies “Where Is My Mind?” followed, recalling once again that 90’s sound. Bayliss hopped on acoustic guitar, and the rest of the band harmonized to match the vocal performance on a classic. Redman would join for sax through the rest of the show, starting with “Intentions Clear” before moving into the first “In A Silent Way” since 2007. While there isn’t much of a structure, it instrumentally ascends the music into a state of ambiance.
Set two ended with a song that debuted on 12/31/13, “Bad Friday.” Its funky beat and bass line sent the Beacon into a full fledge dance party, similar to how Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance” had instigated a crowd groove the night before. The most valuable performer was holding down the low-end; Stasik found the pocket and remained there, until the rest of the band was ready to close things out. The second cover of the night was in the encore slot and appropriate to the location, as Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” made for an eruption in the crowd. Being played at the Beacon before by the Allman Brothers, it was only right that the dueling guitars of Umphrey’s got a shot at it too. At this point it makes you wonder where the next logical step is for these guys, considering they’re selling out the Beacon and filling the room with music with no problem.
Set 1: Le Blitz > In The Kitchen > Miss Tinkle’s Overture > Wappy Sprayberry > Miss Tinkle’s Overture, Morning Song, Great American*, Made to Measure* > Der Bluten Kat*
Set 2: JaJunk, The Floor, Full Frontal > Conduit, Where Is My Mind?, Intentions Clear* > In a Silent Way* > Blue Echo*, Bad Friday*
* with Joshua Redman on saxophone
Sunday, January 18 review by Chason Heins
Umphrey’s McGee was fresh off two performances at NYC’s Beacon Theatre and made a much-anticipated return to Long Island, as well as a first time visit to The Paramount. The Huntington, NY venue seemed a perfect fit for the fans and band alike, offering ample floor space as well as balcony seating paired with a solid sound system and a beautiful backdrop for lighting designer Jefferson Waful to work with. A huge main bar added to the party vibe of the evening as well as several smaller ones which allowed for shorter lines and a rather effortless trip to get a beverage which for added to the overall appeal of the venue.
As the show began it was apparent that this was a band on a mission and that was simply to own the venue, and own it they did. The first set flowed beautifully as the band drew the crowd in with an intoxicating version of “Phil’s Farm” which was when this set really took off. The band followed it up with a powerful version of “Mad Love” before bringing out guest saxophonist, Joshua Redman. Joshua’s ability to manipulate his saxophone in any way he saw fit added a unique richness and passion to the music which was most evident during an emotionally charged “Glory,” “Anchor Drops” combo before driving the set home with fan favorite “Wife Soup.”
The second set was a steady onslaught of Umphrey’s at their finest as they returned to the cheers of the crowd instantly dropping into a “Preamble > Mantis.” The band whose playing has been as tight as ever followed this up with “Booth Love,” which contained a breathtaking “Another Brick in the Wall” jam. Joshua Redman once again joined in the fun for a trio of songs to finish out the second set. The “Higgins” that came out of this segment was wonderfully played with Redman’s horn blending effortlessly throughout the song. Leading up to the set-ending “Mail Package” that may have been the highlight of the entire show with some of the funkiest grooves of the evening.
The band returned to the stage one final time thanking the fans for coming out and sharing in a Sunday Night throw-down before dedicating the encore to “Chris” a fan who was apparently suffering from being sexually amped up. Bayliss jokingly stating that although he couldn’t be of any help, maybe someone out in the audience could be, before kicking off the “Woooo” inducing groove of “Led Boots.” The evening ended with the band revisiting “1348” and closing out yet another memorable New York run in perfect fashion, leaving a room full of satisfied fans awaiting their next chance to spend another magical evening with their favorite band.
Set 1: Bathing Digits > Go to Hell, Phil’s Farm, Mad Love, Believe the Lie*, The Linear* > Glory* > Anchor Drops*, Wife Soup*
Set 2: Preamble > Mantis > Booth Love > 1348*, Higgins*, Mail Package*
Encore: Led Boots > 1348