If the trip and surrounding circumstances of seeing Umphrey’s McGee Wednesday in Seattle were hectic and confused, the exact opposite could be said about the day of the show in the University of Oregon college town of Eugene. Very few obvious Umphreaks were seen around the sleepy town and even until a half hour before the first set even started, the turnout seemed as if it was going to be bleak. However, the couple hundred souls in the venue during opener Iration’s set seemed to have magically multiplied as the nearly packed house roared for the Umphrey’s grand entrance to the stage.
The first notes of “Mantis” single Cemetary Walk solemnly rang out from keyboardist Joel Cummins’ piano and the band took off into the rock ‘n’ roll confessional and were clearly all excited to be there. Guitarist and solo riff savant Jake Cinninger was firing on all cylinders from the start laying down beautiful fills in between the lyrics of vocally adept Brendan Bayliss. The end of the song featured synthesized wind from Cummins, but instead of ending, the band segued with a heavy introduction into the continuation of a tribute to a lost fan and friend of the bands: Rocker II. After a moment of pause, they glided into the soothing instrumental Great American which included a well formed “Jimmy Stewart” led by Bayliss which blossomed into an open canvas for Cinninger to paint his masterful solos before drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag crashed wildly into the opening of the syncopated Andy’s Last Beer. A bout of audience participation ensued where the band tried to get everyone to clap in unison to the awkward beat before they slowed things down with Words from the 2005 release “Safety in Numbers” but quickly reversed that direction powering through an extended version of the driving, funky Tribute to the Spinal Shaft to end the set.
Standing second in line at the bar, the first notes of the intense Ocean Billy nearly summoned me drinkless back to the floor (but that would be bad form for a Friday night). Pay the Snucka followed: a smooth, funky groove reminiscent of a 90’s Warren G. song featuring a hilarious introduction to each member of the band. Without finishing Snucka’s third section, the band dropped abruptly into Led Zeppelin’s Song Remains the Same to the eruption of approving cheers from the packed but fluid floor. The room was buzzing at the end as Jake played the intro to another Zeppelin classic Rain Song, a delightful nod to the consistently gloomy weather that is definitive of the Pacific Northwest. Capitalizing on the momentum they had built, Umphrey’s knocked it home with Cemetery Walk II. The song is a variation on the theme of the main melody from Cemetery Walk turned into a no holds barred techno dance party. This night’s version called on bass guitar sorcerer Ryan Stasik to lay down an energetic, driving line that the rest of the band followed, adventurously building energy to a loud, massive peak before returning to the main theme. It was clear to see that the band was enjoying the feedback from the audience just as much as the audience was enjoying the set leaving only smiles.
Syncopated Strangers also featured a huge “Jimmy Stewart” in between its two sections and led smoothly into the unofficial Umphreaks theme song, Partyin’ Peeps featuring witty lyrics about the experience of traveling around seeing shows directly followed by blazing dual guitar work by Cinninger and Bayliss which highlights their impressive precision. The last full song of the set, Hangover, highlights another aspect of the party that often ensues at Umphrey’s shows: the aftermath of the next day. Finally, to end the second set, Jake did an all out solo noodling session before launching back into the maniacal metal force that is the third section of Pay the Snucka. The audience cheered heartily, beckoning the band’s return for the encore and were graciously rewarded with the second half of their rock symphonic: Mulche’s Oddysey.
Umphrey’s McGee returns to Portland’s Crystal Ballroom this evening for the second StewArt event followed much later by a full show. Stay tuned for reviews of both to come!