Umphrey’s McGee in Memphis

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Umphrey’s McGee
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, Tennessee
March 28, 2009

It’d been years since Umphrey’s McGee had played a club show in Memphis.  They’d braved the rain and mud of Memphis in May several times the last few years, but hadn’t set foot in one of the clubs in the Bluff City in a while until they dropped by Minglewood Hall.

um090328-b.jpgUmphrey’s dropped by on their tour in support of new album Mantis, which debuted at #62 on the Billboard charts, a remarkable feat for a band that gets relatively zero radio airplay – it charted based on the rabid devotion of the band’s fanbase and the band’s bonus material strategy, where fans who pre-ordered the disc were given goodies, the amount of which grew as more pre-ordered.

The band came out draped in blue light – they’re touring with tens of thousands of dollars worth of lights masterfully piloted by ex-moe. light guru Jeff Waful; they even asked the venue to take down their house rig (which is pretty darn good in its own right) so they could put theirs up.  So, as the lights flash brightly and lasers bounced off of the Minglewood Hall walls, the band tore into "All In Time," which broke down into a reggae-like jam for a few moments before shuffling into "Fussy Dutchman," led by the finger-tapping bass of Ryan Stasik.

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"Dutchman" was definitely one of the highlights of the first set.  The interplay between guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss and pianist Joel Cummins was fabulous – very few bands are as technically-skilled across the board as Umphrey’s, and the three intertwined their sounds to create one harmonious deluge of notes.

um090328-d.jpg"Professor Wormbog" showed off the band’s jazzier abilites, while on "Spires" the band delved into something a little heavier, led by Cummins’ ominous synth, and the song eventually melted into an entirely different beast, the danceable "Triple Wide," which would close the first set  In a twenty-minute span, Umphrey’s delivered all facets of their music, what sets them apart from so many touring acts: their versatility.  They can make you raise your devil horns, they can melt your face, and they can make you dance your ass off, all in the course of an evening.

The second set opened with "Turn And Run," folowed by the progressive sounds of "Bridgeless."  Umphrey’s ran circles around the audience with "Bridgeless" like a chicken with its head lopped off, the blistering pace of one guitarist met (and raised) by the other. For all the talk of just how unreal a guitarist Jake Cinninger is, Brendan Bayliss holds his own every night – the Umphrey’s faithful knows how good Bayliss is, but often he gets overlooked by the rest of the jamband world.

Eventually Umphrey’s got to where they were going with the "Bridgeless" vehicle.  Cummins’ delicate keyboard began to get repeat a certain familiar phrase over and over again, the unmistakable intro to The Who’s "Eminence Front," a song Umphrey’s had toyed with twice in 2002 but had never been played in its entirety until they busted it out at Minglewood.  Simply put, they nailed it. Cinninger’s vocals were spot on in particular, and across the board it was a solid cover. 

um090328-c.jpg"Eminence Front" seamlessly made its way back to "Bridgeless," the back half of which was really Umphrey’s at its best – a frenetic flurry of guitar notes from Bayliss and Cinninger who were synched up perfectly, powerhouse drumming from Kris Meyers, and driving bass from Stasik.  It was the rock side of Umphrey’s, and when these guys are throwing down, few rock harder.

As if they wanted to give the audience a chance to catch its breath, a leisurely "August" followed, and segued into "Search 4" which gave Stasik a chance to show his chops; the bassist threw down a tasty little bass solo midway through the song.

"The Fuzz > Soul Food II > Got Your Milk" closed out the show in fine fashion, and made for a nice little run of tunes.  The  funk of "The Fuzz" provided a danceable beat that segued into the P-Funk-esque "Soul Food II" (the crowd even began singing "We Want The Funk" because the song sounds so much like Clinton), which in turn shifted gears completely to close out the set with "Got Your Milk."

After a short encore break, the band came out to take on the Rush tune, "YYZ," and like "Eminence Front," nailed it.  In this case, it was a perfect match.  Umphrey’s is just built to cover a tune like "YYZ," and it was a near flawless interpretation. 

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As Waful flashed every color of the spectrum, Umphrey’s pulsed and pounded their way through the tune, eventually wrapping it up to begin where the whole show started, with the back half of "All In Time."

Over the course of the show, Memphis got jazz, funk, classic rock, techno, a dance party, face-melting guitar solos, and thunderous drumming.  In a nutshell, it got Umphrey’s McGee, because they’re all that stuff, and probably just a bit more.

 

Click the thumbnail for more shots from UM @ Minglewood

 

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