Saturday, May 2
There aren't too many bands that give us the chance to see them 3 times in less than 5 weeks, so it's really nice that one of them is our favorite, Umphrey's McGee.
Less than 18 hours after Rob saw Umphrey's play late night in New Orleans, we met up with our friends Paul, Bart, Tracye and Nikki to see them at the Lyric Theatre in Oxford.
The crowd at The Lyric was much more agreeable than the one at the recent Wilco show that Rob attended with Paul and Bart, which was over-filled and over-drunk.
It was nice to see that the band's new stage arrangement seems to be permanent, with Joel Cummings having relocated his keyboards from stage-left to stage-right. Perhaps the most tangible result of this is to put Brendan at center-stage, instead of his former position at the far-right. This works out really well, since Brendan is pretty much the heart and soul of the band.
As usual, the band put on a killer show, though maybe not quite as high up the scale as their recent March 28 show in Memphis.
They kicked things off with "Jazz Odyssey", which is not really a song but rather a sort of groove-based improv at the beginning of a set. This dropped smoothly into the Umphrey's classic chestnut "August", which quickly spawned a huge jam that ranged from dark, swirling psychedelia through some high-energy, Iron Maiden-style guitar harmonics-jamming and finally back into some dreamy Pink Floyd-like improv. They were already in full-on mind-melt mode! The jam eventually segued slickly into the old-school Umphrey's rocker "Resolution", which was also quite a remarkable version, featuring a full-on instrumental rendition of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" that started right after the first verse and built into another exhilarating jam. Eventually "Resolution" was resolved with a second verse and a wonderfully hip-shaking outro that had Ryan, Joel and Jake laying down some enormously funky licks. You could practically tell that these guys had just come from New Orleans the night before! The segue from the funk-breakdown back into the finale of "August" was absolutely spot-on, and Brendan wrapped up the "August" sandwich with a gorgeous, mellifluous climax. Whew!
Next up was some more dirty funk with "The Fuzz", a tongue-in-cheek lament on police persecution that kept the crowd moving and grooving. This sequed into a nicely done cover of Pink Floyd's "Time/Breathe Reprise", featuring one of Jake's striking David Gilmour impressions on lead guitar. Joel kept the "Dark Side" flow going with the piano intro to "Great Gig in the Sky", including the spoken word parts, but it was just a tease as the song never fully materialized.
Instead it was time for the deep, rootsy reggae of "FF". Written to sound as if it could be a Bob Marley cover, "FF" features Brendan yearning for the carefree days of childhood, as well as another excursion led by Ryan and Joel into goopy, dripping funkiness. In typical Umphrey's fashion, the outro jam quickly left behind the reggae groove and shifted into a climactic techno-rock jam that built and built on top of the unmistakable riff from Ozzy Osbourne's classic "Crazy Train". Finally, the "Crazy Train" riff deconstructed into the opening notes of the prog-epic "Bridgeless", which capped off the first set with a huge crescendo.
The second set got off to a seriously hard-rocking start with "Der Bluten Kat", which is comprised of several distinct sections and generally features close to 20 minutes of furious jamming at the end. This version took a wonderfully psychedelic-tinged detour into the Sgt. Pepper-esque "Made To Measure" from the new Mantis CD, before explosively returning to the raging conclusion of "Der Bluten Kat".
Then it was time to lighten the mood with another foray into reggae, though the breezy "Partyin' Peeps" yielded yet another big jam with yet another frenetic crescendo.
The meat of the second set arrived in the form of the heady, proggish, mostly instrumental "JaJunk", a lurching, mid-tempo guitar piece that seems to summon the best aspects of the bands Television and King Crimson. An angular techno-ish jam emerged and gradually led away from the "JaJunk" themes and eventually into "Slacker", Brendan's ode to counterculture individualism in the face of a judgmental society.
The radio-friendly "Intention's Clear" provided an excellent showcase of the band's unique pop sensibilities and complex dual-guitar attack, though they kept this version rather succinct, quickly devolving into another booty-shaking funk jam full of head-spinning syncopations between the crunching guitars, smooth organ and sneaky rhythm section. A familiar theme developed, and sure enough the funk jam morphed into the funk instrumental "Professor Wormbog". This song usually features a little silly section at the end of the head, such as the a capella "Zoom zoom zoom zaya" from the Boyz II Men song "Motownphilly" that they dropped into the 3/28/09 Memphis version we saw a couple months ago. This time all the instruments dropped out except Joel on the piano, tickling the ivories to that oh-so-familiar lush piano intro to Motley Crue's classic skating rink ballad, "Home Sweet Home". Sure enough they did the whole song, Jake on the vocals and contributing an absolutely blistering solo that blew away any guitar solo you'd hear at an actual Motley Crue show. Then, right back into the reprise of "Professor Wormbog", which surprisingly ended the set. Of course we'd forgotten about Oxford's midnight curfew on Saturdays. (You can't be selling alcohol at all on Sunday around here!)
For the encore they picked up right in the middle of the epic "JaJunk", which was unfinished from the second set, taking us on another wild prog ride and into another blazing guitar solo meltdown-crescendo, before leaving us once again pumping our fists and gasping for air. But of course, that's what we came for!
In summary, here's how it went down:
Sat, May 2nd, 2009
Jazz Odyssey >
Resolution (with Norwegian Wood jam) >
The Fuzz >
Great Gig in the Sky tease
FF (with Crazy Train jam) >
Der Bluten Kat >
Made to Measure >
Der Bluten Kat
Intentions Clear >
Professor Wormbog >
Home Sweet Home >
As usual, Umphrey's McGee's trusty live download site has a crispy-sounding copy of the show available for download.
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