Rock and Remembrance: Umphrey’s McGee Pack Saranac

Poor souls centered in the selfish earth
How could silence for what suffers worth
Old worms shall never reach these excesses
Define terms to lease you to another friend.
— “The Haunt”

On September 11, 2001, the world changed forever. That same night, Umphrey’s McGee performed at a venue in Ithaca called The Haunt, a Central New York venue well known to all up-and-coming bands. While Umphrey’s was still in the midst of finding its footing in rock and roll, the band showed that the events of that fateful day were not lost on them, as they penned a song called “The Haunt” which sums up the band’s feeling about the terrorist attacks that crippled the World Trade Center in New York City.

Fast forward almost 15 years to the day, and that band which headlined The Haunt was taking the stage not far from Ithaca, at the Saranac Brewery in Utica. The band with the technical prowess of a jazz master and the gleaming intensity of the best of the prog-rock world showed a crowd of about 1,000 thirsty fans that they haven’t forgotten what happened that night by performing a somewhat haunting rendition of the song about halfway through their opening frame.

Heading into the show, the usual Umphrey’s circus of dedicated fans was gathered outside the brewery, preparing for the night ahead. Being on the home turf of their good friends in moe., Umphrey’s delivered a very straightforward performance that won’t stand out among the best in the band’s history, but certainly satiated a hungry crowd.

“Slacker” and “Linear” > “The Floor” set the tone for a night filled with syncopated guitar from axemen Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, before the pairing of “Uncle Wally” > “Higgins” provided a somewhat funky — for Umphrey’s, anyway — danceable breakdown.

That’s when they launched into “The Haunt.” A guy standing next to me leaned over and tried to explain the significance of the tune, but I could only make out some of his words, prompting me to look into it. The impassioned song seemed to provide the crowd a reflective period in the show to remember the lives lost in the senseless tragedy 15 years ago. “The Haunt” then gave way to “Miss Tinkles’ Overture,” which closed out the set.

During setbreak, I took a walk around the backstage area, and noticed Al Schnier, moe. guitarist, trotting around, making me believe a sit in was imminent. That would turn out to be false, but at least it kept me guessing throughout the second set, which featured more guitar-heavy material, but with a bit more improvisation than the earlier set.

“Hunt Bird Bath” and “Intentions Clear” > “Upward” were both upbeat and spot-on, but it seemed the crowd had thinned out a lot during setbreak. Maybe the locals who wanted to check Umphrey’s out decided to end their night, because the fans who remained were deeply into this set.

“Bridgeless” > “Day Nurse,” “Mail Package,” “Resolution” and a segue back into “Bridgeless” was classic Umphrey’s, with dueling guitars, a drum solo and a somewhat rare keyboard jaunt from Joel Cummins.

Just before the “Hollywood Nights” encore, bassist Ryan Stasik gave a short speech about how moe. had influenced the band in their infancy, and even brought out Schnier to wave to the crowd in a show of support. Overall, the show was very well done, with minimal miscues, but there was a bit of creativity lacking, however there was no questioning the band’s soul. It was worth the drive, the total lack of sleep heading into work the next day and the ringing in my ears from being way too close to one of the stage speakers.

Setlist: 

Set 1: Slacker, Linear >The Floor, Uncle Wally > Higgins, The Haunt > Miss Tinkles’ Overture
Set 2: Hurt Bird Bath, Intentions Clear > Upward, Bridgeless > Day Nurse, Mail Package, Resolution >Bridgeless
Encore: Hollywood Nights