Located on the banks of the Des Moines River, the Simon Estes Amphitheater was the site of yet another Umphrey’s McGee ‘musical-Mona Lisa’. A truly beautiful setting for a night that would include some of summer’s most electric moments. The ever-present feeling of the impending Fourth of July Freedom Fest upped the inescapable energy that is Umphrey’s Mcgee. Talks of Umphrey’s next big destination; their second annual Red Rocks and Blue blowout, echoed throughout the front rows of the gorgeous amphitheater.
The first set opened with a thumping rendition of the aptly named Rocker II, starting the night out in stylish, brilliant fashion. After a cleverly chosen ‘Water’; ‘Tribute to the Spinal Shaft’, which included an inspired guitar solo from axe-man Brendan Bayliss, launched the unadulterated dance party into full-swing.
The “Jimmy Stewart” that bridged the ‘Tribute’ to the subsequent ‘Syncopated Strangers’ had many levels to it, all blending beautifully to create an utter masterpiece the whole way through. It was everything you want in an Umphrey’s improvisational piece; spacious, deliberate, concise, ambient and even a little hip-hop flavor eased in at points.
In addition to the otherworldly lights provided by renowned light designer, Jefferson Waful, came a myriad of colorful fireworks exploding in the sky, evoking awe from both the band and fans alike. However, they seemed to be a distraction from the real fireworks that the six-piece-juggernaut were dishing out to the dedicated Midwest fans. Umph closed the set with a goosebump-inducing interpretation of The Police’s ‘Walking on the Moon’, into a new song entitled ‘Room to Breathe.’
With little hesitation, the second set was underway with an extended ‘All in Time’, touching the peaks and dropping to the valleys of improvisation with ease, before effortlessly making their way into a fan-pleasing ‘2nd Self.’ The highlight of the night may have been the impressive funk-workout version of ‘Bottom Half’. Waful would reiterate my speechlessness by Tweeting during the show that the improv inside of the ‘Bottom Half’ was the “highlight of summer, hands down.”
The remainder of the set, including the encore, showcased some outstanding covers including the increasingly prevalent ‘I Ran’ by Flock of Seagulls and an overwhelming take on the Toto classic, ‘Africa’ as the encore.
Once again, Umphrey’s McGee left little on the table at the end of the night. As a band that is constantly pushing the envelope both live and in the studio, one can only imagine what they might have up their sleeve for their recently announced CD, to be released September 13th of this year entitled “Death by Stereo.”
Set I: Rocker II, Water, Tribute to the Spinal Shaft>”Jimmy Stewart”>Syncopated Stranger, Walking on the Moon*>Room to Breathe
Set II: All in Time>2nd Self, Bottom Half, Linear> I Ran%, The Fuzz> All in Time