September 24, 2010
There are few bands touring that are as collectively dynamic and skilled as Umphrey’s McGee. Memphis got a taste of exactly how versatile Umphrey’s can be when they returned to Minglewood Hall on September 24.
The band started their day in Memphis with the first S2 event of the tour. S2, a unique experience reserved for just 50 fans, gives the audience a chance to be active participants in the show. With a giant screen set up next to the stage with a text code on it, the fans can send the band messages, which are streamed onto the screen; the band then takes the messages and incorporates the requests into their completely improved set.
The bulk of the S2 set was a juxtapositioning of words, song titles, and musical styles. "Joelvis" was keyboard player Joel Cummins mashed up with Elvis Presley; Cummins threw some lyrics from "Hound Dog" and "Suspicious Minds" into the mix. The band clearly had a great time during the set. Guitarist Jake Cinninger spent a few minutes playing keyboards, bassist Ryan Stasik made his vocal debut with a verse of "Divisions," and the audience got a taste of a new song when Umphrey’s closed with an quick instrumental tease of "Well Wisher."
After the S2 set finished, the band came out for a meet and greet and pizza dinner with the fans, who all left with autographed copies of the set they had just seen, limited edition laminates, and a truly memorable experience. On its face, the $100 ticket may seem a tad high for an hour of music, but when you consider the intimate concert, the free food (and free beer), the autographed CD, and the chance to rub elbows with the band, it’s a pretty fair deal.
When the band took the stage a few hours later for the main event, the audience had multiplied 20 fold. They opened the set with "Andy’s Last Beer" but really hit stride when they hit the jam section of "Intentions Clear." Umphrey’s settled into a nice dancable groove that had the entire room moving as one. The jam was driven by Stasik’s bass and colored by Cinninger’s expert guitar work. If this was a sign of the evening to come, Memphis in for a treat.
The funky riff from "Example 1" quieted down midway through the song, the eerie keyboad tones giving way to a downright sizzling guitar solo from Cinninger. "Example 1" eventually slowed down enough to build back up again, exploding into an epic "Morning Song." This song showcases Brendan Bayliss’s vocals, and he delivered. As they cranked up the reverb for his vocals, the song died down to a near whisper, building up tension before erupting into a flurry of guitar notes.
The set closed with a rowdy cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s "E.t.i." which became "2nd Self," and the band left the stage, giving both the audience ahd Umphrey’s McGee a much-needed breather.
The start of the second set dance party was nearly instantaneous – Umphrey’s opened with "Wappy Sprayberry" and never took their foot off the gas pedal until the show was over. "Wappy Sprayberry" is an interesting number – it’s got the club-quality drums and bass, but when you throw on the expert-level guitar playing of Cinninger and Bayliss, the jam went places that The Disco Biscuits or Lotus could never reach.
"Wappy" segued rather abrubtly into the more lyrically-driven Turn and Run," and over the course of those two songs, they showed the dexterity they possessed as a band: they could go from full-bore, high-speed rave to melodic vocals at the drop of a hat and not sound like they’re trying too hard.
"Tribute to Spinal Shaft" displayed the skills of the entire band – everyone had a chance to show their stuff over the 15 minutes the song covered, starting with a piano solo from Cummins that gave him a chance to show that while the band may be best known for the two guitarists, he can hold his own. "Spinal Shaft" had tempo changes, guitar solos, drum breaks…the entire band was put through the wringer, and when they were squeezed out, it was in the form of one of the better cover tunes this author has ever seen.
When the slow, escalating tones of Pink Floyd’s "Comfortably Numb" came out of the PA, the audience cheered, whistled, hooted and hollered. Cinninger’s verse vocals were spot on, and Bayliss’s chorus turn was perfect. Cinninger did a near note-for-note rendition of David Gilmour’s first solo and nailed it. Cinninger got a little too aggressive on the second verse lyrics, screaming them a bit too much, but that was a small blight on a near-perfect cover song and the crowd roared in approval when it was done.
The high-speed chase "Miss Tinkle’s Overture" segued to the reggae-esque "Higgins" and back again, and with that, the second set came to a close. To encore Umphrey’s came back out for "Pay the Snucka," which had a "Stairway to Heaven" tease and a verse of Van Halen’s "Panama" sandwiched in for good measure.
There’s not much to say about Umphrey’s that hasn’t already been said. With these guys, what you see is what you get: blistering guitar solos, a stellar rhythm section, and several styles of music all mashed into something truly original. At times it’s like they’re playing to a group of hat-to-the-side rave kids; other times it’s as if it’s a metal band on stage. All added up, it’s one thing and one thing only – Umphrey’s McGee.
Click the thumbnail for more shots from S2 and the evening show by Josh Mintz/photosbyjosh.com