Umphrey’s McGee has graced almost every stage of significance in their hometown of Chicago. So when the opportunity arises to see them in a new venue there is a palpable sense of excitement and expectation. Such was the mood when guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger followed up their annual holiday show with a second acoustic show, this time moving the locale from the intimate Park West to the Abbott Oceanarium at Chicago’s world famous Shedd Aquarium. With several familiar friends in tow to round out their sound the duo serenaded both fans and dolphins alike with a short set full of familiar tunes spiced with a couple of covers and several holiday classics.
The evening began with an announcement from Bayliss that this would be the first show attended by his new son, Roman, and that it also marked the first time he had changed a diaper five minutes before performing. And young Mr. Bayliss was in good company as he shared the audience with numerous toddlers and other babes in arms. As the wind howled outside, the duo greeted the seeming onset of winter with a rendition of In the Kitchen which Cinninger quickly segued into Glory, an instrumental that is truly magical in its simplicity and even more so this evening when played on acoustic instruments, before finishing the first segment with a sweet version of Christmastime is Here. Next was a glorious cover of the Blind Faith classic Can’t Find My Way Home which gave way to Passing before the duo invited bandmates Joel Cummins and Kris Myers to join them. The quartet launched into the venue appropriate Nemo, which had a stellar version of Sweetness tucked into It, before transitioning into Booth Love, a tune I have heard too often this year.
Next was a short but sweet version of Dear Prudence which Bayliss dedicated to a toddler who had the foresight to get his parents to dress him in a Beatles t-shirt. The nautical theme returned with Anchor Drops before the duo invited their dear friend Michelle Hallman (formerly of Butterfly McQueen) to join them for a few seasonal tunes. With versions of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and The Christmas Song, Hallman’s sweet voice brought a joyousness to the evening. As Hallman retired to the wings, the quartet launched into a raucous rendition of Resolution before completing the In the Kitchen that had begun the set.
After a brief interlude, the quartet and Hallman returned for a too brief encore that began with a faithful version of Winter Wonderland. After a brief pause Cininnger deftly plucked the opening notes to the infrequently played Bulhead City to which Hallman lent her heavenly harmonies. As always, this gorgeous tune about returning to the comforts of home after a tiresome journey left the audience in sated silence and brought the evening’s entertainment to a blissful conclusion.