Umphrey’s McGee @ The Electric Factory 2/11/12

Published on February 16th, 2012

Allow me to preface this review with a statement: being cold sucks.  No, wait, I can be more specific than that: being cold, in the snow, without a ticket, in front of the Electric Factory, sucks.  This is something that we have all dealt with before, but it sucks so hard that I felt like it needed to be said before I talk about the band.  Not only was the show sold out, but it was snowing in our fair city and it was windy as (insert expletive here).  With the addition of it being what felt like a degree outside, my night began as a recipe for disaster.  Thanks to two hours of holding a finger in the air in the freezing cold, some very lucky maneuvering by a very good friend, and a last minute sprint to Center City, I got in to see one of my favorite bands in the entire world: Umphrey’s McGee.

My pre-show plight is reminiscent of just how far Umphrey’s McGee has come in the last few years.  I can remember two or three years ago when getting a ticket to see the Umph at the Electric Factory was a matter of going to the ticket window and telling the disinterested guy or gal on the other side that you needed a ticket.  At this show, however, there was nothing but people looking for tickets.  In large part, I think the influx of fans has been due to the fact that Umphrey’s McGee is always on the road.  They tour almost as much as Phish did in the 90’s and their fan base is growing exponentially as a result.  The boys of Umphrey’s McGee are perfecting their live shows night in and night out and, speaking as someone who has been seeing them for seven years; the growth in musicianship and show quality is immeasurable.  All that being said, I also believe that since the Disco Biscuits aren’t touring, a lot of Bisco kids needed a place to go and since Umphrey’s can play everything from metal to house, they found a new, if not temporary, home with Umphrey’s McGee.

If I had the time and I thought the average reader’s attention span was long enough, I could easily sit here at my computer and break down every song and discuss what worked, what didn’t, which member of the band took the lead, and exactly what dance move I was doing during the song.  However, this is the go-go…2010’s?…and I know people have things to do, so I’m going to touch on just a few of the highlights of what was an overall stellar show.

One thing that is true of Umphrey’s McGee in Philadelphia is that they always throw down.  Whether they bring a more rock oriented show to the stage or one designed to make you bounce, they are always bringing the nasty thunder butter.  This show was no different.  Coming onstage to a pre-recorded track, the Umph was greeted by raucous cheering from the assembled E. Factory Umphreaks.  The first set was littered with fan favorites such as “Jazz Odyssey”, “Ocean Billy”, “Glory”, and “Conduit”.  Each song brought with it the intensity and serious ability to simply go out and jam that has made Umphrey’s a staple in the jam scene.  One of my favorite parts of the show came in the form of a song I had never heard before called “Forks”.  Keyboardist Joel Cummins laid down a part that reminded me of Black Sabbath’s “Crazy Train”…the part after the badass guitar intro…while bassist Ryan Stasik produced solid triplets on his bass throughout the entire song.  For a band I’ve seen close to 30 times, the fact that they can still produce and execute songs I’ve never heard before in ways I’d never expect speaks to just how talented these six dudes truly are.

Cruising along, as they have a tendency to do, Umphrey’s floated through a reggae-heavy version of “Resolution” and delivered a very solid, if not  laid back, version of “Morning Song”.  And that is when they proved yet again why they are one of my favorite bands in the entire world.  Coming out of the sleepy “Morning Song”, drummer Kris Myers laid down the kick-drum-heavy beginning to “The Triple Wide”; an electronic-sounding jam that can go very electronic or very jammy.  This version had a little bit of both.  That is what sets Umphrey’s McGee apart from a lot of the other bands on the scene today.  Like a group of guerilla musicians, Umphrey’s has the ability to strike from anywhere at anytime and without warning.  Having kept the show on one path for most of the first set, “The Triple Wide” gave everyone looking to get down an excuse to do just that.

Never let it be said that Umphrey’s McGee doesn’t pay homage to those who came before them.  With the tragic death of Whitney Houston only a few hours before the show, the Umph showed her some love by teasing “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” during “Ocean Billy” and “I Will Always Love You” (originally a hit for Dolly Parton in the 70’s) during “Glory”.  Oh, yeah…they also threw down Motely Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” at the end of the set…just for good measure.

Set two began with some very spacey organ chords from Cummins that were echoed by the rest of the band on their respective instruments.  When that broke, it was time for guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger to take over.  “Nothing Too Fancy” is a tune guaranteed to get the crowd moving with its dueling guitar solos and catchy hook.  While maybe not the cleanest version of this song ever played, with Myers producing a dub beat halfway through and then dropping out completely for a few seconds while Bayliss and Cinninger raged together, it was still a very solid way to begin a set.  This is one of my favorite songs, Umphrey’s or otherwise, to get down to, so while maybe not the tightest version they have ever played, it certainly sent the crowd into a dancing frenzy.

The second set also contained “Freedom of ‘76”; a Ween cover never before played in public by the Umph.  Overall, it was cool to see the boys tip their caps to one of the most eclectic bands I have ever heard, but it was a strange choice for where the set had begun…even though they threw in some lyrics giving some more love to the recently departed Whitney Houston.  The song came out of nowhere and just didn’t blend with what they had already done.  They recovered nicely with the chromatically heavy “Utopian Fir” and an extremely funky version of “Day Nurse” before giving way to “Rocker Part 2” which allowed the entire ensemble to shine together without throwing the spotlight onto one particular member of the band.

Umphrey’s closed down the second set with “40’s Theme”; a song paying tribute to backyard bar-b-ques and 40 ounce beers.  A fan favorite for its raging hook and a call to “shake that ass”,  “40’s” allowed the band to give the people what they wanted at the end of the show: an excuse to party.  That’s really all we are here for.  An excuse to get together, get down, and have a great time with one of the best jam bands to emerge in the new century.

As if they hadn’t raged for over two hours already, the encore was bound to be killer as Bayliss shouted out to his buddy for providing him a bicycle in 1992 for Christmas.  If any of my friends had given me a bike for Christmas, you had better believe I would throw down for them.  To prove this point, the boys rolled out one of their newer jams, “1348”, that, in my experience at Umph shows, puts the crowd into a state of madness due to it’s insane duel guitar hook and upbeat tempo.  Just to sweeten the deal, in the middle of “1348”, Cummins laid down a quick chord tap that led the boys into “Eminence Front”.  I love The Who, as any music savvy person should, and judging by the reaction of the crowd during this song, there were a lot of knowledgeable people in the crowd.  This was easily the best of the four covers Umphrey’s threw into the show and the appreciation from the gathered Umphreaks was evident from the get-go before they returned to “1348” to finish what was, in my opinion, a killer show.

If you are already an Umphrey’s McGee fan or maybe just looking for a new band to get down to, do yourself a favor and log on to www.umlive.net and download this show.  It had everything from Van Halen-esque guitar solos to house beats and funk jams.  I have been seeing Umphrey’s McGee for a long time and if the quality of the shows these guys are putting together recently is any indicator as to the direction the band is headed and what we can expect from them in the future, we won’t be able to see them in small venues like the Electric Factory for very much longer.  They’re about to blow the roof off the jam scene and I just hope we are all lucky enough to be in the line of fire when they do.

The Triple Wide – Umphrey’s McGee

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