Umphrey’s McGee New Year’s Eve concerts have been a Chicago tradition for the past ten years. Every year they try to outdo themselves, playing at bigger and bigger venues with more pomp and circumstance each time. Their journey has taken them from playing the Cubby Bear in 2000, to three years of multi-night runs at the Vic, a year at the Riviera, three years at the Aragon, all culminating in last years tour-de-force of the Auditorium theatre. For reasons unknown, Umphrey’s has decided to scale back this year for the 2009 New Year’s run and return to a couple of their old haunts. Last night’s show took place at the Vic, the first New Year’s run show there since 2003. The idea was to have a throwback show, feature some of the old songs of New Year’s past and sell some old school merch. All in all it went pretty well, but following up last year was always going to be pretty hard.
This was my first time at the Vic, and I had mixed reactions about the place. The multi-tiered drinking area was good; the piss soaked bathrooms were not. Sound was good, but too many people were carrying on conversations about past shows and how things used to be. I can see how it could have a nostalgic value to the oldest of the umphreaks but the sold out crowd and the lack of proper building maintenance detracted a little bit from the spectacle of the thing.
The first set was about as old school as they come. Andy’s Last Beer and Walletsworth started the night off in the right spirit without too many surprises. It wasn’t until the rocking In The Kitchen that things really let loose. Jaco led the band in a funky soul “Jimmy Stewart” featuring a nice fat Pony bass solo before bringing it back home. We were treated to a 40s Theme with some good synth riffs courtesy of Joel. The audience participation on that one always makes it a lot of fun, and you just can’t help shouting “if you think you got the biggest one then go on and shake that ass!” The highlight of the first set was definitely the 20 minute Front Porch, complete with Little Drummer Boy teases. The band thanked everyone for twelve years of support before launching into the fan favorite. This was only my second time catching Front Porch live but it was clearly something special. The set finished up with a big JaJunk rendition, another 20 minute odyssey. Umphrey’s left the stage to roaring cheers as we rallied for second set.
Set two started big with a nice Mantis/Pay The Snucka sandwich. Mantis Ghetts, a remix of the Preamble track that serves as the intro to Mantis, was featured both before and during the song. All in all it was a pretty cool sequence, easily the strongest part of the second set. Partying Peeps went off without a hitch and got everyone dancing before the band segued into an epic 20 minute Nothing Too Fancy. It was surprising to see them bust out N2F before New Years Eve but the Dub/Rock “Stew” they threw down made it worth the while. They finished off the set with one of their original mash-ups from this years Halloween show, Nemo’s Fat Bottomed Good Times (Umphrey’s Nemo, Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls, and Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times). They returned to the stage after a brief hiatus to play a short Nopener (another New Year’s staple) and then launched into Peter Tosh’s Steppin’ Razor for the first time, segueing back into N2F to close out the night.
The show was altogether a very solid Umphrey’s show. I am only slightly disappointed by the fact that it couldn’t have lived up to the magnitude of last year’s show on the 29th. But bygones are bygones, and I look forward to see what surprises they bust out when they descend upon the Aragon this evening.
Set One Andy's Last Beer, Walletsworth, In the Kitchen, 40's Theme, Front Porch, The Floor, JaJunk Set Two Preamble > Mantis Ghetts > Pay the Snucka > Mantis > Mantis Ghetts > Mantis > Pay the Snucka, Partyin' Peeps > Nothing Too Fancy, Nemo's Fat Bottomed Good Times Encore Nopener, Steppin' Razor> Nothing Too Fancy