On Thursday, August 20, 2015, I had the privilege of seeing the progressive rock jam band, Umphrey’s McGee, play The Fillmore in Charlotte, of which they absolutely destroyed. I met these guys a few years back after attending a number of their shows all over the east coast and midwest, and they rarely disappoint. This show was my 44th time seeing them since I first witnessed their incredible live prowess back in 2008.
You may think that seeing one band 44 times is way too many, but after you’ve been to a handful of Umphrey’s shows you begin to realize just how talented they are and how expansive their repertoire is. Not to mention they are some of the most hilarious, down to earth, and genuine dudes I’ve ever met.
Thursday just happened to be sound guy and Charlotte native, Chris Mitchell’s 500th show with the band and he rightfully wrote the set list. Since their inception in the late 90’s, Umphrey’s McGee has gradually acquired a heavier sound, and the set list Chris wrote for the show highlighted the more metal side of the band. The term face-melt is used lightly by Umphreaks for good reason.
The first set was an even mixture of newer songs like “Hindsight,” “Room to Breathe” and “Bad Friday” and crowd favorites such as “In The Kitchen,” “Puppet String” and “White Man’s Moccasins.” The jams in “In The Kitchen” and “Bad Friday” really got the band into the swing of things for the evening.
I want to take a minute to explain that Umphrey’s “jams” are much different from other jam bands. Instead of simply having a section of each song reserved for extended improvisation, Umphrey’s can break out of any song at any moment and create a completely new piece of music. Generally, one member will introduce an idea and the rest of the band layers on top of that. They will usually try to come up with several parts, almost as if composing a new song on the spot, using hand signals and in ear monitors to communicate their ideas to each other. Then before you know it, they will break back into the song they were playing before, or even segue into a completely different song. These sections of each show, which the band has termed “Jimmy Stewarts,” are what Umphreaks look forward to the most.
The second set at introduced the band’s debut of ELO’s “Showdown.” Another element of Umphrey’s is that they perform spot-on covers like this at nearly every show. This adds to the notion that Umphrey’s McGee really has something for everyone. Heavy hitters such as “Believe the Lie,” “Wizard Burial Ground” and ‘Bridgeless” rounded out the show with some incredible shredding by guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss. There are not many guitarists out there who come close to the dual, lead guitar chops of these two.
Umphrey’s usually gets a little dancier with their Jimmy Stewarts in the second set, and this show was no exception. This is when the crowd really gets down and the party atmosphere that surrounds Umphrey’s rightly shows. Their lighting director, Jefferson Waful uses these sections to show off the latest tricks up his sleeve with his outstanding light rig. His on-the-fly queues during the songs are impressive enough, but once he starts painting the walls with colorful moving patterns of light while the band is going into trance mode, it truly mesmerizing. Yet another feature of Umphrey’s shows that adds to the full package experience.
I’m not going to lie, when they started playing that night I was almost to the point where I was over Umphrey’s McGee. But then about two songs in when they started killing it, my spark was re-ignited. They really brought the house down and I’d have to say that was the best I’ve seen them play in over two years. I went to the show with some old friends of mine who introduced me to the band almost eight years ago. It’s amazing how live music can bring people together and enables you to relive experiences with friends you haven’t seen in a while. With all that Umphrey’s has to offer, this is definitely my favorite aspect and is why I will continue to see them again and again.
Here’s the set list from the night:
In The Kitchen
Room to Breathe
#5 > White Man’s Moccasins
Higgins > Showdown > Higgins
Believe the Lie
Wizard Burial Ground > Night Nurse > Bridgeless
Big City > Wizard Burial Ground
– Submitted by Mark Cichonski, Audio Production