Coming off of one of their most prolific tours in recent memory, selling out nearly every show they played (including The Fillmore in Denver, Colorado), Umphrey’s McGee descended on the ever-familiar frozen tundra of Minneapolis for two consecutive nights at the First Avenue.
The raucous crowd was greeted with a warm and flowing Sociable Jimmy to offset the frigid temperatures. The mood was tested as the band dropped into the high-energy Nothing Too Fancy, as members of the crowd hurled numerous glow sticks onto the stage, hitting members of the band, and their equipment. Soldiering through the unnecessary and potentially dangerous interruption, the band left N2F by rocking into the rare 13 Days.
The boys came out swinging for the fences to kick off set two, opening with the ever-dynamic JaJunk. As the groove of JaJunk was setting in, “Time” by Pink Floyd was dropped like a hammer, to which they executed to utter perfection. The proceeding songs were enveloped with exploratory, precise jams that were undeniably some of the highlights of the evening. What started as a high-rising, at some points trance-like, Wappy Sprayberry, ended as a smooth and lyrically melodic Booth Love, a relatively new song that has brought some of the best jams out of the band in the past year. Following the bands display of exploratory prowess, a near-faultless rendition of the Steely Dan classic “Peg,” made for a warm and communal vibe that would set the stage for the marathon that would be Saturday, March 6th.
After holding one of their critically-acclaimed Stew Art Series events earlier in the day and a scheduled after party featuring Brendan Bayliss, Joel Cummins and Andy Farag, Saturday night’s show was set to kick off earlier than normal. The Stew Art Series is a special event where a limited number of fans buy tickets to participate in personally directing the bands improvisational journey’s via text message. The event also includes a meet and greet with the band members, as well as a question and answer segment. As expected, the S2 (as the Stew Art Series’ have come to be known) had the band firing on all cylinders. Opening the set was a Red Tape, followed by a long-time fan favorite Ringo, which ran seamlessly into an extremely rare Space Funk Booty (played only five times since 2007), a real treat for Umphrey’s McGee stalwarts. The six-piece prog-rock juggernaut flexed their chops in the soaring tour de force, 2x2. On the heels of the imposing rendition of 2x2 was one of their newer masterpieces, Conduit; an impressive, complexly orchestrated number, accompanied by driving, heavy lyrics. Rounding out the first set’s notable blend of old and new material, Umph closed with the fast-paced, jump-around jam Tribute to the Spinal Shaft before finishing Ringo.
The band took the stage for the second set of their last night in Minneapolis, and the room was simply aflame with energy that had been building throughout the previous two days. Umph took that energy, and harnessed it into one of the most thumping renditions of Mulches Odyssey’s in recent memory, with Jefferson Waful providing a kaleidoscope of colors and a beautiful setting for the tune to unfold. Higgins, which always seems to house some of the most impressive improvisational pieces the band offers, did not disappoint, and treated the crowd to some off-the-beaten path dark jams, that don’t typically follow the light, reggae feel of the song.
To close the second set, the band pulled out a trick that not many have come to expect from them in the past few years; they ended up finishing what they had left unfinished the previous evening. The subtle electric drums coming from Kris Meyers’ kit were a cue that yes, they were indeed about to drop back into the popular dance tune Nothing Too Fancy. The elaborate building of the tune was met by the sudden drop of the infectious, quick guitar rhythms that make N2F so recognizable, and SO much fun. The chosen encore was the perfect light-hearted treat that the crowd was craving. The “Umphrey’s! Umphrey’s!” chant of the crowd met the six musicians as they graced the First Avenue stage for one final tune, before they would move on with their lengthy tour. The chant faded and became a deafening roar as the band dropped “Fool in the Rain” by Led Zeppelin. The look on everyone’s faces encapsulated everything great about music, and the community we have with Umphrey’s McGee.
Connected to the First Avenue, is a smaller venue called 7th Street Entry. This was the setting that would house the after party for Saturday’s show. Brendan Bayliss, Joel Cummins and Andy Farag took the stage in front of a sold out crowd, to perform one of the most intimate sets one can hope to see from members of Umphrey’s McGee. Bayliss was quick to point out that they weren’t exactly sure what they would be doing throughout their set, but encouraged everyone to relax, have a beer, and enjoy the show. The makeshift band treated the crowd to some extremely rare delights throughout the night, and at one point even taking requests from the crowd. Highlights included: the jazzy Umph original, Mamu, which has only been played once since 2002, an excellent Kimble ending with a Farag-requested Doobie Brothers tease, a spot-on rendition of “Jesus, Etc.” by Wilco and finally, an outstanding (and some points hilarious) interpretation of “Benny and the Jets” by Elton John, into “Debra” by Beck, than back into the Elton John classic
Set I Sociable Jimmy, Rocker II>Nothing Too Fancy*>13 Days, Bottom Half>Jazz Odyssey>Bottom Half, Plunger
Set II JaJunk>Time$>JaJunk, Wappy Sprayberry>”Jimmy Stewart”>Wappy Sprayberry>Booth Love, Peg%
Encore: Pay The Snucka
*Unfinished $ Pink Floyd cover % Steely Dan
Set I Red Tape, Ringo>Space Funk Booty>2x2, Conduit, Tribute to the Spinal Shaft>Ringo
Set II Mulches Odyssey, Higgins>”Jimmy Stewart”>Higgins, Rosanna#^>Bridgeless*>Turn and Run, Nothing Too Fancy**
Encore: Fool in the Rain+
# Toto cover ^ Kevin Sinclair on saxophone *Unfinished **Ending version from 3/4/11 + Led Zeppelin cover
Saturday 3/5/11 Brendan/Joel/Farag Late-night
In The Kitchen, Mamu, Nemo, Kimble#, Jesus Etc., Susannah$^, Baby You’re a Rich Man%, FF>Made to Measure, Benny and the Jets+>Debra&>Benny and the Jets+, August^^
# w/ Doobie Brothers teases $ 30db cover ^performed by crowd request % Beatles cover +Elton John cover & Beck cover ^^ with Jake Cinninger joining Farag on percussion