Umphrey’s, Mule offer it all at Red Rocks

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Gov’t Mule & Umphrey’s McGee
Red Rocks Amphiteatre
Morrison, Colorado
August 31, 2008

The late summer sky opened up for an afternoon thunderstorm that had the crowd wondering whether the Mule/Umphrey’s show would be an exercise in patience.  But while the rain clouds passed by majestic Red Rocks Amphitheatre, refreshing the air and the crowd, Umphrey’s McGee took the stage at the early stroke of  7 p.m. to kick off what would turn out to be a solid night.

UM1.jpgUmphrey’s cooked up their unique stew of musical styles that jumps genres quickly but often returns to progressive song structures rooted in Zappa and Yes.  “Wappy Sprayberry” displayed Jake Cinninger’s ripping solos framed by frenetic rhythm structures of Kris Meyers’ drumming and Andy Farag’s percussion, backed by Ryan Stasik’s basswork.  This gave way to the carribbean flavors of  “Higgins” and Brendan Bayliss’s sanguine-toned vocals.  “The Bottom Half” wandered a bit through jumpy guitar phrasing, and was climaxed with their rendition of the Chantays’ “Pipeline.”  Towards the close of “Resolutions” there was more than a little taste of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” which the crowd responded well to.

Umphrey’s remains an acquired taste that challenges and rewards listeners with intricately structured songs that are explored in unique ways each time they’re played.  Watching the band communicate with their eyes and hands during improvisational segues is fascinating.  UM’s jams can be dense, so a song like “Divisions” at the mid-point of their set offered a refreshing diversion with its delicate silences and emotional presence.

Mule2.jpgThe grandiose rock bleachers had filled to capacity by the time Gov’t Mule came out.  For the uninitiated, finding a seat in the lower thirty rows of Red Rocks is highly advisable.  The sound carries well to it peak but clarity does suffer as you go up.  Warren Haynes’ crew, consummate showmen all, grabbed the audience right away with crying guitar solos in “Soulshine.”  The Mule delivered a great two sets, blazing through a deep catalog of covers and originals such as the haunting “Temporary Saint,” which showcased one of Haynes’ best solos of the night.

The second set opened with a Mule favorite, “Beautifully Broken,” a straight ahead blues piece that reminded us that Haynes is one of few guitar gods out there that can sing with command as well as he plays his guitar.  Danny Louis seems to have fully integrated himself into the band since joining in 2002.  His keyboards added great texture to the melody on several songs and it might be nice to give that guy a solo more often.  The rhythm section of Matt Abts on drums and Andy Hess on bass kept a strident beat and were able to build sonic crescendos, exemplified on songs like “Brand New Angel.”

mule1.jpgThe frequent classic covers were clearly enjoyed by the crowd.  The Mule went on to cover another Beatles tune in “Dear Prudence,” the Doors’ “When the Music’s Over,” Steppenwolf’s “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam,” Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and the Dead’s “Morning Dew.”  Perhaps these were partially inspired from Denver’s recent Democratic Convention and the “Recreate 68” vibe?

The mixed crowd may have come to see just one of these bands, but this combination bill offered fans a  true musical variety.  Umphrey’s structurally dense suite of mini-songs strung together by improvisational breaks kept the audience entranced while the Mule’s set of blues rock and cover songs delivered a very balanced and crowd-pleasing setlist.

Coming on the heals of the previous night’s sold-out Allman Brothers/Ratdog show, this was a solid Labor Day weekend party at Red Rocks.

Umphrey’s McGee (listen to the show here )
Search 4, Wappy Sprayberry > Higgins, The Bottom Half > Glory > The Bottom Half, Divisions > Pipeline > Resolution* > Divisions > JaJunk

Gov’t Mule
Set 1: Soulshine, Larger Than Life, Mercy On The Criminal, Don’t Step On The Grass Sam, Time To Confess, Rocking Horse, Temporary Saint, Dear Prudence*, War Pigs 
Set 2: Beautifully Broken, When The Music’s Over, He Ain’t Give You None > For What It’s Worth, Brighter Days, Drums, Unring The Bell, Brand New Angel
Encore: Had To Cry Today, Morning Dew 
 * with Brendan Bayliss

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