Umphrey's McGee at the Fillmore

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Photo: Tobin Voggesser

Umphrey's McGee
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Fillmore Auditorium
Better Than:
Saving money and listening to Umphrey's through your earbuds.

I'm too young to have seen the Grateful Dead or Led Zeppelin live. Just the same, I'm convinced that my friends and I were conceived in brightly painted VW buses with shag carpet parked outside their shows. These groups were legendary for extended all-nighters, a loyal, exuberant fan base and, most of all, their music. Fast-forward thirty-something years and enter Umphrey's McGee. The act's arrival onto the jam-band/rock scene has opened up a new path for our generation that'll one day have hordes of followers talking about their live experience. This gives me hope. As a pissy-by-stander talking about how kids-these-days, coined as the iGeneration, are ruining bands forever by preferring downloaded and often pirated albums to the live experience, it's nice to see fans from the mid-50s down on down to teens coming out to hang.
This is one live show you shouldn't miss. Despite frozen temps and the fact that Umphrey's had four -- yes four! -- shows in Colorado this week, the turnout at the Fillmore was huge. Streams of fans gathered outside in anticipation of the band's acclaimed live show on Saturday night. Those assembled were giggly, swooning, in-love buzzing from the act's previous nights make-out sessions.

The DJ's opening for the band were okay. Their reputation is good and their talent for computerizing sound, better. Yet, very few people on the floor showed enthusiasm until they pulled "Paradise City" out of their stacks. Too bad it was their last tune. You win some, you lose some. Then again, it could have been the die-hard fans protesting for the real show.

Photo: Tobin Voggesser

Umphrey's took stage to a house full of sweaty bodies. Leader Brendan Bayliss was dressed as if he was going to mow the lawn. And then he played. Oh my. His voice. On the opening tune, "Turn&Run," it was clear that he was going to give an exceptional show. I have the feeling that to him these shows aren't just about the vocal gift he's been granted: His lines, lyrics, and commanding presence on stage speak volumes about bringing a his music to a higher ground. All too often, great musicians, such as the ones in Umphrey's, are covered up by vocal/lyric heavy tracks on the albums. While Brendan can certainly sing and the lyrics are memorable, when the guys open up solos and extended sections of sound within the tunes, the audience responds. Also of note, early on, was drummer Kris Myers. His kit was immense and his sound -- even more so. I was extremely impressed by his infectious vibe and take-no-prisoner approach to rhythm. He was all over it. I had a bird's eye view from the balcony and was hypnotized by his seamless time and transitioning kicks from song to song. Myers creates a metastasizing mass of sound that feeds off its crowd.

Photo: Tobin Voggesser 

Overall, the show was nothing short of great. I've followed Umphrey's for some time now and have come to expect a loud, raucous show, but this was different. The players ran a tight ship with very few words. By the time they were half way through the first set, the house was a rolling roar of excitement and up until the last drop of sound, they pulled the paper off the walls. No words were necessary. It's nice to hear the band take an edgy vibe to the next level through expanded romps and hard-core solos. I have to mention, as well, that the light show accompanying the group was transporting in the way only an ethereal state of sensory overload can do. Umphrey's defines the rock music experience.

Photo: Tobin Voggesser
With upwards of five to ten minute extensions into ideas, the band's path from the familiar sophomoric years to legend is clear. Although its not quite there yet, it's easy to see that its not going to be much of a stretch. It's obviously that these guys are all about the music when they're on stage. There are some groups that play shows catered to an audiences lack of musical knowledge, dumbing it down, so to speak. Album solos are copied beat by beat, line by line, so people can easily identify and digest. Umphrey's is not that band. The outfit is intelligent by design, and have created a solid and healthy standard for jam bands to come. A much needed resurgence of this genre is here. To say that the members of Umphrey's McGee merely provide a show for their fans is a criminal understatement. The group harnesses a forward and evocative energy while embracing its historical lineage, a combo not easily found but much sought after and definitely achieved.

-- Cicily Janus

Set List

Set One
Turn & Run, Intentions Clear
The Fussy Dutchman
Der Bluten Kat
Meeting In The Aisle
Der Bluten Kat
Cemetery Walk
Cemetery Walk II*

Set Two
Red Tape
Hurt Bird Bath
The Fuzz
Utopian Fir

Can't You Hear Me Knocking

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I love Chicago. All things Chicago. Pizza and Blues Brothers aside, Umphrey's is the best thing to come out of that city in a long time.
Random Detail: The members of this outfit are community service gurus. They donate instruments, collect food for the needy and educate youngsters. How cool is that.
By the way: According to loyalists outside the entrance, the scantily-clad girls from their Ft. Collins crowd are aggressive. Be afraid.

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