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Umphrey's McGee - 1/23/2010: Fillmore Auditorium; Denver, CO
Umphrey's McGee - 1/23/2010:  Fillmore Auditorium; Denver, CO
Photos by:  Brian Spady  [View More]
Concert Review by Brian Tobian on 1/27/2010   

The sun seemed to smile upon the Rockies as the clouds broke driving into Denver from Aspen for the continuation of the Colorado edition of the Umphrey’s Mcgee saga.  Still feeling the bitter pangs of last night’s bender at the Belly Up and craving more than the five hours of sleep we were able to fit in to keep on schedule, we were living that old regretful adage of “shouldn’t have had that one more drink last night.”  Blissfully watching the snowy mountainsides turn back into rock, concentrating on just getting there, I couldn’t have guessed how special the rest of my day would be.  It is not often that a fan gets to spend most of the day with their favorite band..  On this particular Saturday in Denver, Umphrey’s McGee made it possible for me to do just that.  The Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, whose maximum capacity teeters around 3700 concertgoers, housed the 4th installment of Umphrey’s McGee’s StewArt Series, and only a few hours later, the biggest show the band has ever played in Colorado.  This first segment will be a review of the actual show followed closely by one dedicated to the S2 event.

Umphrey’s has a lot of competition in Denver.  They are one of the biggest bands on the jam scene who has yet to even co-bill, let alone headline a show at the pristine natural wonder that is Red Rocks Amphitheatre.  However, with the addition of light designer Jefferson Waful added to the mix, a new light rig and placement concepts for those lights, their 2009 release “Mantis,” the ideas they have gathered from the S2 events, and the culmination of the years of hard work which all of the members have put into the production of the Umphrey’s machine, they are now in as good of position as ever to really start seizing their share of the Colorado.  Before this night, I was unaware how big the market for live music is in Denver.  Looking at the calendar in the local rag, there were at least five shows, including Umphrey’s, that I would’ve seen on this given night in the Mile High City.  Also, it seemed as if all I heard the entire time I was there was Grateful Dead music.  For a live rock and roll music lover, Denver seems like a pretty happening place and on Saturday, Umphrey’s most definitely capitalized on it..

When I arrived, the empty wooden dance floor in the massive Fillmore Auditorium more resembled a basketball court than a concert hall.  Fellow Midwesterners Cornmeal were taking the stage as I walked in to find the sweet spot where the lights, sound and sight line of the musicians would all be optimal.  Dancing and half way paying attention to the soulful bluegrass provided by Cornmeal, I studied the stage set up, only half way realizing the sheer amount of lights that Waful was able to pack onto the behemoth bandstand.  By the time Cornmeal finished their set, the wooden floor could not be seen under the swarm of music hungry fans as the space between each person gradually diminished to less then their own phone booth’s worth.  It was clear that this was going to be an event not to be missed, and from my perspective, not many people were going to miss it.

Umphrey’s McGee took the stage to the call of hundreds of fans singing “We want the Umph.”  They certainly couldn’t have come a moment too soon as the room exploded with cheers.  Reggae remix “Turn and Dub” opened the set and within three minutes, the song started exploring some hard rock improvisation, driving the song from cool reggae into a heavy two minute jam which cleared a large space for some intense guitar soloing by Jake Cinninger before sliding gently back into the original selection.  Finishing the end of the song, the band followed bassist Ryan Stasik into a dub jam with fluttering guitar blended this time by Brendan Bayliss before Kris Myers picked up the pace of the jam to help it lead it into the electrifying “1348,” the closing track from Mantis.  The heavy rock theme of “1348” lent itself well to a heavy metal themed, structured improvisation led by heavily distorted guitar whacks of Cinninger as it rocked toward the opening lines of “Bridgeless.”  Umphrey’s characteristically does not repeat the same song on a tour, but having twice repeated the first half of this unbelievably technical song with too many notes to need a bridge, I was surprised to hear it again, and even more surprised that it was again left unfinished as they launched it, on the back of another metal tinged solo by Cinninger, back into the manic end of “1348.”

After a breather and a drink, Myers uncorked the jazzy, bubbly intro of the title track from their 2004 album “Anchor Drops.”  The audience swayed as Bayliss serenaded us the message to “Breathe easy,” before allowing Cinninger to steal that breath with a momentary blues guitar fury before returning to the mellow groove.  That smoothness would only last for another moment as the fizzling ending of the song arrived and another metal induced rage fell over Cinninger as he opened the forceful funk of “Tribute to the Spinal Shaft.”  The eruption cooled for an ethereal jam section before returning to the main theme of the song which opens back up into a guitar lick upsurge by Bayliss after an impossible composed harmonized riff by both guitarists.  Slow funk takes over as the steam is released into a slow, easy jam.  The jam builds within a moment to sharp dual guitar melody from the spacey jam before an increase in tempo by Myers to give it a more danceable base which grooved in and out of the parts already played.  Without any further place to go in “Tribute,” the jam faded into the reggae intro of “FF.”  The song escalated quickly into a driving, feel good disco rock jam as Cinninger launched fireworks from his arsenal of guitar licks as Waful dazzled the audience with strobe light spectacle.  After again fading back into an airy flit, Cinninger dialed in the opening synthesizer lines of the timeless Who masterpiece, “Baba O’Riley.”  Allie Krall, fire starter fiddler from Cornmeal, was invited out to join the fun as the septet blazed through the glorious jam section of the song, peaking majestically with a Cinninger Krall duel in front of sparkling LED’s as the song ended the stunned audience erupted.

There is probably nothing that could prepare a person for what Umphrey’s did during the second set.  The primal energy of “Wizard Burial Ground” began the furious march through one of the most intense sets I’ve ever seen.  Waful really turned up the heat as Bayliss and Cinninger rampaged through the harmonized section into an unrelenting solo by Cinninger.  The front lights dropped as Stasik started in on the opening riff of “Wappy Sprayberry,” leaving “Wizard” unfinished.  Blue and red beams raced around the stage behind the silhouetted band as they built the dance party intro into the rock and roll verse.  A four to the floor trance jam began to build as each member found a place to fit themselves in for a sonic race to an unrelenting techno and back into a heavier, almost industrial take on the which which continued into the verse with heavy guitar chords from Cinninger and deep, heavy synth of Joel Cummins.  Without a breath or warning, the band leaped into the animated opus of “Miss Tinkle’s Overture.”  A slow jam in the middle built into the thunderous finale as it raved up to its apex with lights flashing in every direction before flashing like lightning to its frenzied conclusion.  This block of music was easily the most intense part of the night, highlighting the synchronization of each member with each other and the music with the lights.

The band gave the audience a small reprieve, flaoting into the emotional “Gulf Stream,” which prompted a small hug-fest in the audience before Cinninger opened up all cylinders with a blistering solo that drew Waful to flash galactic radiance to match.  The break was short lived as they jumped into the any man rock star biographical “Got Your Milk (Right Here)” which they stretched out into another simmering bluesy rock based jam which gathered exhilarating energy before slowing back and navigating to the wild, untamed other side of “Bridgeless” for the first time in 2010.  Bayliss thanked the crowd, explaining it was the largest one they have had in the 12 years of playing within the Rocky Mountain state.  Celebrating perhaps the claim by national press that Denver is home to more medical marijuana dispensaries than there are Starbuck’s in the entire state, they opened up “Hangover,” featuring a falsetto Bayliss asking for one of the best remedies for any hangover.  The song funked into another bluesy jam before coming to a close.  Next came the opening vocal harmony of Halloween ‘09 debuted mash-up “Nemo’s Fat Bottomed Good Times” mixes a bit of Queen’s hit “Fat Bottomed Girls” with Led Zeppelin’s classic “Good Times, Bad Times” and original tune “Nemo,” to the thrill of the audience who sang along word for word, following each change perfectly to the credit of Umphrey’s amazing talents at making it all come together.  Upon the last crash of the mash-up, Joel took a breath and began back into the piano aria of the song that started the set, “Wizard Burial Ground.”  The dramatic gallop builds in intensity with Bayliss pounding out riffs before Myers crashes back in to rev the Umphrey’s engine back up to the speed of the opening riff, momentarily holding off for some slow Zeppelin-esque lines by Cinninger accented by some Metallica-esque drum crashes by Myers before giving Cinninger a place to unleash some venomous guitar, blasting into the final notes of the set.

Before returning to the stage for the encore, a microphone was placed out in front of Ryan Stasik’s post.  It is only on extremely rare occasions that Stasik will ever talk, let alone sing into a stage mic, so there seemed to be possibility of a rare opportunity in our midsts.  A short, poignant “Partyin’ Peeps” ensued, leaving the audience still guessing about the purpose of the microphone.  Of course, it turned out that Cousin Eli and DJ Pumpernickel were in the house to lay down the raunchy Snoop Dogg hit “Ain’t No Fun.”  It seemed as if the song might be a message to the world from Umphrey’s that “it ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none” of the Colorado music market.  There is no question that this show will be remembered by everyone in attendance the next time the Umphrey’s train rolls through D-town, and certainly no doubt that all will definitely be aboard.

Umphrey’s has break before an extensive Middle America tour.  Schedules and other information can be found at Umphreys.com.  And, stay tuned to Kindweb.com for a forthcoming review of the early festivities at the 4th StewArt event.

Set I: Turn & Dub > "Jimmy Stewart" > Turn & Dub, 1348 > "Jimmy Stewart" > Bridgeless > 1348, Anchor Drops > Tribute To The Spinal Shaft, FF, Baba O'Riley*

Set II: Wizard Burial Ground > Wappy Sprayberry > Miss Tinkles Overture, Gulf Stream, Got Your Milk (Right Here) > "Jimmy Stewart"** > Bridgeless, Hangover, Nemo's Fat Bottomed Good Times > Wizard Burial Ground

Encore: Partyin' Peeps, Ain't No Fun


* W/ Allie Kral
** Crosseyed and Painless tease's


Photos by: Brian Spady  
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