Koka Booth Amphitheatre & Lincoln Theatre
Cary & Raleigh, North Carolina
July 31, 2008
Under the trees in the dubbed “magical forest” that is Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary NC, a small but energized crowd gathered under clear evening skies for a evening of music with progressive jam-rockers Umphrey’s Mcgee opposite trance-jammers Sound Tribe Sector 9. Representing two very different areas of music, reflective in the fans present, these two equally explosive bands have rocked a successful tour this summer, with Cary being no exception.
In their turn as the ‘opening’ set of the night, Umphrey’s took the stage to an enthusiastic but small crowd, not surprising considering the noted difference in Umphrey’s and Tribe crowds in the parking lot. Many dubbed “devoted” Sound Tribe fans had openly declared that they wouldn’t enter the venue at all until "their" band came on stage. Not such a welcoming start, but the show goes on.
Umphrey’s began the night in a fairly low key manner compared to the explosive maniacal sets of earlier shows. With jams such as “End of the Road,” “Resolution > 13 Days,” “Morning Song,” and “Partyin’ Peeps” to end their set, the Chi-town based boys eased the crowd into the night in a rather smooth way…if you will.
Guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger showcased hints of their rapid progressions backed by the rhythmic basslines of Ryan Stasik, the ever-evolving beats of drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag, and of course, Joel Cummins raging the keys.
It was an overly calm set from Umphrey’s, but nonetheless, the band was tight and executed well as always.
As Cali boys STS9 took the stage, the audience seemed to double instantly as the remaining lot crowd rushed in, ready to dance the night away. Led by bassist David Murphy’s decree “Let’s get things started, enjoy the show,” they were off, spiraling the audience into a frenzy of explosive sound.
One of the joys of STS9 is their ability to methodically lead the crowd up to the edge of mania, then settle back down into a melodic sway, over and over until it is an almost unbearable rush. It is a bold reflection of their new album, Peaceblaster, which explores the juxtaposition of light and dark that is reflective of the society we currently live in. Paired with phenomenal lights, crystal sound, and the shadowing sway of trees above, this performance was a true showcase of both the band’s evolution and maturity as performers and a venue’s ability to live up to expectation as an up an coming music spot.
Highlights of the set included guitarist Hunter Brown’s intricate leads in “Mischief of a Sleepwalker” and a fiery combo of “Empires > Kamuy > The New Soma,” accented by a ridiculous breakdown by hard-hitting, roadrunner-speed drummer, Zach Velmer. The band was led back into play with an almost tribal reincorporation by Murph’s deep bass riffs, Jefree Lerner’s complex percussionist beats, and David Phipps’ energized keys.
Another highpoint of the show was an almost 14 minute version of “Moon Socket, which began with Zach thrashing his drumsticks, begging the crowd to get down and rage. Rage they most certainly did. With cheers, screams, and gasps all around, this was definitely the major point of the set.
Settling with a combo of “Move My Peeps > Kaya > Move My Peeps” combo to end the night, the crowd was once again tempted by insanity, settled into the flow, and then brought back together again for the big finish. All in all, a very impressive set considering the smaller crowd and emphasis on newer material. It proves that with bands like STS9, it’s the vibe of the crowd that matters most. The only complaint would be the show ended too quickly, namely due to a lack of encore stemming from the iron grip of the law that places a weekday sound curfew at ten o’ clock.
Fortunately, for those who had chosen to invest in the combination ticket and could make the brief journey into downtown Raleigh, a surprise was in store at the Lincoln Theatre, as Umphrey’s McGee took the stage once more for a torrid late night set. It was like a new band, the opposite of the slower lower opening set at the ampitheatre. As their last late night set of the tour, they took the stage meaning business, with high energy, untz-filled dance beats, and flashier displays of play on play guitar progressions. It was true Umphrey’s, a twist of musical genres ripped into one set, filled with unexpected turns and sharp transitions that keep the audience on their toes from beginning to end.
Though it was fairly steamy inside the theatre (no re-entry means a lot of closed-in, sweaty bodies), this set showcased the incredible level of versatility that typifies Umphrey’s. There were very few breaks in this set as they intended to fit as much fun as possible into the short period of time. One combo led into another, a highlight being “The Girl is Mine > Jane Says > The Girl Is Mine > Billie Jean > Mulche’s Oddysey” (ending the night, pre-encore). There is nothing funnier than seeing the boys on stage, cheekily grinning, laughing, and dancing along to a theatre wide sing-along of "Billie Jean."
Other set highlights included guest appearances by guitarists Mike Miz and Bon Lozaga from Gongzilla. The night closed in high energy with an encore performance of “It’s About That Time,” that ended to explosive cheers and applause.
For Umphrey’s fans, this was the set they had paid to see, and it was certainly not a disappointment for the many that had forked over the extra $20 and made the trip.
For fans of both bands and those curious to see how they would make out as a touring combination, the quality of material brought forth in Cary did not disappoint. However, those Umphreys fans that did not make it out to the late-night Raleigh show missed out, because it was certainly worth every penny of ticket and gas money to get there.
With both bands being headliners of their respective kind, each representing a scale of extremes, sound-wise, these were amazing shows to experience in a less crowded, smaller venue atmosphere.