Three months from now, Umphrey’s McGee is going to be playing at a festival, outdoors, for a couple thousand fans wearing t-shirts and hula hooping. When the Midwestern six-piece came through Syracuse on Friday night, they packed the lavish Landmark Theatre in a manner that paid no attention to the swankiness of their position. Rather, they embraced the venue’s beautiful architecture and seated floor with a level of welcomed informality.
While Umphrey’s is a regular on the summer festival circuit, it’s not uncommon to see the band play a venue like The Landmark. All six members are incredibly talented musicians, which is an obvious fact to anyone who has the chance to witness their several-hour set.
Upon taking the stage on Friday, Umphrey’s played for over seventy minutes straight, continuously jamming without pause. The set came in waves, ebbing and flowing in a pattern dictated by the band’s instinctive energy. At times the music would gradually build, then crash in an upheaval of guitar solos and layered percussion. Other times the music would transition without warning, timed by seemingly telepathic communication amongst the musicians on stage.
Umphrey’s played like a band that had been jamming together for almost twenty years, and they have. Since their formation at the University of Notre Dame in 1997, Umphrey’s have perfected their live performance. Guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger each took turns playing lead, oftentimes matching each other in brisk, intricate riffs. The two would go between simultaneous playing and a call & response pattern, constantly producing melodies for the band’s remaining members to sustain.
While bassist Ryan Stasik and keyboardist Joel Cummins laid the groundwork for Bayliss and Cinninger to harmonize on guitar, Andy Farag and Kris Myers made up a percussion section with full, driving instrumentation. Farag’s use of auxiliary pieces – ranging from bongos to rototoms and everything in between – created an almost worldly style of rhythm.
Umphrey’s ability to diversify their sound is a main component in what differentiates the band from its counterparts. With progressive rock influences fused into traditional world music stylings, Umphrey’s is able to take their performances in a uniquely exciting direction.
The band has begun to take advantage of this particularly impressive sound, offering fans a product called Headphones & Snowcones. For $40, audience members at the Landmark wore Audio-Technica headphones with a live feed from the soundboard piped directly into their ears. In an attempt to give people the clearest, most pristine sound, Umphrey’s has added this component to almost all of their current tour dates. While only a small handful of fans took advantage of the opportunity in Syracuse, the idea of it certainly says something about the importance Umphrey’s places on their sound.
Headphones or no headphones, everyone at the concert found a way to tune into the performance. The chance to see Umphrey’s play at the historic Landmark was well worth braving Friday’s winter conditions, and for a couple of hours, it felt just as good as it will in the sun three months from now.
Set 1: Gurgle > Out Of Order > Mail Package, Miami Virtue > Mad Love, 2X2 > 1348
Set 2: In The Kitchen > Similar Skin, Puppet String > Believe The Lie, Immigrant Song, Tribute To The Spinal Shaft -> In The Kitchen, Wizard Burial Ground
Encore: Young Lust -> Puppet String