On a quiet and cold late January Sunday night, one beacon of activity in Rochester was drawing in warm bodies from all over Western New York. The line wrapped from Anthology’s doors, down the tour bus-filled alley and around the corner as showtime quickly approached. Bundled-up ticket seekers marched with their fingers out in hopes of scoring an opportunity into the sold out show. Progressive rockers Umphrey’s McGee were set to take the stage in moments, in what would prove to be one of the biggest shows the young East Ave. music hall would host to date.
Anthology is a smaller venue than the band is used to playing at their current popularity. For the intimacy, the crowd was trading in the opportunity to catch the buzz-worthy jam act Spafford. The stage couldn’t accommodate them for their scheduled opening slot. Likewise, the low ceilings couldn’t accommodate Umphrey McGee’s massive lighting rig. Additionally, guitarist Jake Cinninger was sitting the show out with a sickness, doctor’s orders.
No opener. No lights. No Jake. No problem. The quintet née sextet was up to the task.
The dual guitar assault combined with the vibrant and chaotic lighting assault can make an Umphrey’s McGee show an overwhelming overload of the senses. This was a chance to take a step back and enjoy the more subtle nuance of their music and appreciate the musicians’ efforts on a more individual level. From the opening “Domino Theory” and on through the whole night, the rhythms laid down by drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag really shone through and became front and center moreso than usual.
Wisely and fortunately, guitarist Brendan Bayliss didn’t attempt to make up for his partner’s absence by redoubling his efforts. He took a more laid back stance, allowing the music to breathe. It certainly helped that their special guest for the evening was none other than saxophonist Joshua Redman.
Redman, no stranger to playing with the band and finishing up a four-night run with them, was no ordinary guest. “Thanks for saving our ass,” Bayliss quipped. During his stint, which spanned the final three songs of the first set and the first five songs of the second set, he all but controlled the action. Entering first on “The Linear,” he immediately locked horns with Bayliss as they jammed in unison. Later on “Example 1,” he intertwined with some intense drum leads from Myers.
The highlight of the night came as Redman took over in the mellower run through “Upward” and the rare “1000 Places to See Before You Die,” which slowly built to an intense and fiery jam highlighting Myers once again. Myers and Redman continued to punctuate the action in “Similar Skin” and when the dust settled it became apparent that Umphrey’s McGee had played almost an hour without any notable guitar solos.
One young fan spent the entire night on their father’s shoulders just a few rows back from the stage. Bayliss noted him early on, sending him a rock salute. But the real treat came later in the evening when he dedicated Bob Marley’s “Lively Up Yourself” to the lucky kid. He sure had a good story for show and tell the next morning. Fans both young and old got a rise out of the set-closing fist-pumping singalong “Front Porch” which contained a rare romp through “Muff II” for good measure. As the last notes hung in the air, the sated crowd filed out and the quiet and cold returned to Sunday as the page flipped to Monday.
Setlist (via umphreesmcgee.com)
Set 1: Domino Theory, Loose Ends > Turn & Dub > Yoga Pants > The Linear, Example 1, Make It Right
Set 2: The Triple Wide > Upward > 1000 Places to See Before You Die > Similar Skin, Lively Up Yourself, Robot World > Front Porch > Muff II: The Revenge > Front Porch
Encore: Orfeo, Waiting Room