Umphrey's McGee throws a lot of parties during the course of the average touring year, but the throw down of throw downs has always been their New Year's Eve celebration in their home city of Chicago.. Despite stepping down from the grandeur of last year's Auditorium Theatre, the three set show at the Aragon Ballroom that culminated a three night run this past Thursday was certainly no exception.
Everyone in the band was playing at their best and clearly enjoying themselves, and the guest horns added quite the flair. Old drummer Mike Mirro dropped in for a guest spot on the marimba. Jefferson Waful had a massive light show at his disposal which he used to shock and awe the audience throughout the night. While they decided to forgo the mass choir from last year, I would have no trouble labeling the entire experience a success.
Set one laid out some classics alongside some new favorites, receiving an appropriately raucous response from the crowd. Cemetary Walk > Triple Wide and the one-piece Divisions back to back were a stunning beginning to the night. A little early for the 3x I thought, but it was solid nonetheless. Red Tape debuted the horns and sounded better than ever. The real gem of the set, however, was the Mirro guest spot on the second-time-ever performance of Local Band Does OK's Headphones and Snowcones. A fast but tight Mulche's Odyssey rounded out the first set.
Second set was when things really started taking off. The band started off at a table in front of the soundboard playing a short improvised jam on synthesizers and drum pads. They filtered out of the pit and onto the stage for a slew of fan favorites and debut covers. Hajimemashite, Ringo, and Bridgeless were all fantastic. Ocean Billy was out of this world, one of the best renditions of the song I've ever seen, and Waful's lights were exceptionally good during the deep sea voyage. The horns helped out quite a bit on Tower Of Power's The Skunk, The Goose, and The Fly and on The Boss' 10th Avenue Freezeout, and the horn section's own Jeff Coffin composed the second-line-inspired Move Your Rug. The band left us to our own devices at 30 minutes to midnight and the new year and promised to return in time to rock us into the future.
The New Year's set started out with a funked out Much Obliged, complete with P-Funk's We Got The Funk teases (again with help from the horns), and powered on into the countdown to the next decade. The traditional Auld Lang Syne exploded out of a jam as thousands of balloons dropped at the stroke of midnight. Champagne was consumed, friends were embraced, people swayed back and forth arm in arm....and the show plunged into an epic Hurt Bird Bath to end all Hurt Bird Baths. Despite the fatigue everyone was surely experiencing after three full shows the crowd powered on into the night, matching the band blow for blow, as it were. Gulf Stream encouraged more embracing and arm swaying, friends and strangers alike enjoying the companionship that comes from passing through the hurricane eye of an Umphrey's show with fellow audience members. I got to hear my first Phil's Farm in eight months and the live debut of the first official Umphrey's McGee remix, the Easy Star All-Stars Turn & Dub followed. Just when things looked like they couldn't get any better, or possibly any more outrageous, Bassist Ryan “Pony” Stasik made his presence known with a rare vocal feature on Frankie Valli's Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You, to much swooning of the ladies. The necessary Cemetary Walk II brought a dance party finale to the third and final set of the Umphrey's McGee New Year's Ever extravaganza. A first encore of 1348 gave way to a second encore of Steely Dan's Reelin' In The Years, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Their job finished, the band retired to do whatever it is they do after blowing the minds of the 5,000 individuals in attendance, but not before proclaiming that “if you thought 2009 was amazing, just wait til 2010!” Waiting we will be, with our trusty cameras and notepads, to bring you to good word from the Umphrey's World for the next year. Cheers, and happy new year!