Photo Essay: Umphrey’s McGee in Louisville
Sometimes, when your friends call and say “want to go to Umphrey’s in Louisville?” you just have to say yes. I usually get three or four UM shows a year, but this has been a busy one, and I hadn’t been to church since 11/25/2011 (With Beats Antique opener – YUM.)
I’d missed Detroit (had a paid gig) and Summercamp this year, then was tied up with Electric Forest and missed the Michigan show. I couldn’t wait, and the six-hour drive south was filled with familiar sounds of past shows, interspersed with the tidings of JamOn.
As we’re heading into the city, I get a text from an old friend, “Are you in Louisville?” to which I responded “2 HRS.” “YES!!!!” was the reply. How she knew? Guessed. That’s the universe, playing with ya. “Want to meet up at my friends at for some pre-party?”
So as they say when you’re on tour, the only people you meet are friends you didn’t know you had yet, and this group was UMazing in many ways. As we drove through the beautiful hills and homes of downtown Louisville, we pulled up to a house with peeps already sipping brews as the sun set, casting beautiful rays of gold across smiling faces. We all got nice for a bit, and jumped in with our designated drivers (Thanks Sarah!) and headed out to the Iroquois Amphitheater across town.
The city of Louisville went all out on the park surrounding the amphitheater; no parking fees, plenty of awesome people around, and it was just getting dark. We played by the car for a bit, and started walking in, and the first thing I see is a girl in a mustache–a crocheted mustache. “Where does one find such fine mustaches?” I asked, jokingly. “I crochet them and sell them. What color would you like?” she asked, pulling out a bag of multi-colored hand-made wares. “How much?” I asked, hoping it was a couple of bucks. “$15,” she responded, although possibly a bit unsure. “Hmmm. Could you tell me a bit about the environment in which they’re made? $15 is a lot for a mustache, and I think if I knew a bit more about it, I’d feel good about the purchase.” She smiled, “I sit on my couch listening to Umphrey’s McGee with my cat, and we sing while we knit.” One mustache: Sold.
We walked into the venue, I got a ticket, and as it turns out, these new friends knew more new friends, and a great party was about to begin. Conspirator was opening up, and we got there just in time to hear Disco Biscuits’ Marc Brownstein, Aron Magner, and Guitarist Chris Michetti throw down some dance grooves, basslines, and danceable beats. I made a pass through the front row and snagged a pic (thankfully the guard believed my Nikon D300 in my friend’s purse with 18-200 lens was in fact, a small camera with non-detachable lens!)
Jake even came out and jammed with them for a while, but I was up in the nosebleeds meeting new friends, and a bit far away for the closeup.
Having come this far for a show, I wasn’t going to miss the beginning, and made my way down to the rail, front and center. There wasn’t a photo pit, and I didn’t clear a working pass far enough ahead of time, so I figured I’d post up in the midst and get what I could. I made deals with the peeps in front of me to get in a couple of times to snag shots, and took a huge hit of whiskey juice from a 7’ tall man next to me.
It was then that I started talking to the people around me and realized that in the group next to me, there was a young woman whose mind was about to get blown. It was her first UM experience. Her friends had been “a couple of times” but it was her first. I had her pose for a mustache pic – the “before my face melted” photo.
Then the lights dimmed, dark figures walked out onto the stage, Jefferson Waful set the look and the first jams of Catshot began. I was taking tons of pictures on the Nikon, but I pulled out the instagram and tagged “When you actually forget how much you love something #umphreys”
Because that’s how I felt. While I’d been on cloud 10 since landing in Louisville, it was just the associated glory of being around family, friends, and the excitement of the evening. Notes hadn’t been played yet, but at that moment, the universe did one of those focusing things, where things that weren’t clear a moment ago become crystalline, three-dimensional, and very apparent. I’d forgotten about the amazement of the show.
Four men, each masters of their instruments were standing 15’ in front of me, flanked behind by two amazing sets of drum and percussion kits and their operators. The lighting rig seemed to reach to infinity above me, and looking around, I was front and center for the show. I looked over at Kate and asked, “are you ready?” She screamed with glee. I showed her how to make the horns, and she started rocking.
Sometimes, you have to be ready for the fact that your bliss might be connected to someone else’s. In this moment, I realized that part of why I needed to be at the show tonight was to see someone living this for the first time, taking me back to my first Umphrey’s show, and even further back to my first concerts. There is a state in which the music takes over, envelops everything else around you, and takes you, literally, to another planet. As Cat Shot segued into Liberty Echo, that interplanetary journey began, and the auditorium was charged for a full liftoff.
I felt a tap on my shoulder, and my friend Sarah who had texted me earlier hopped over the first row of chairs to join me on the rail. She grabbed my camera and started snapping mad shots, until we finally got a break to catch our breath during Walletsworth. We raged the rest of the first set, including a Syncopated Strangers > Deeper > Syncopated strangers, which only further reinforced my earlier thoughts – here we all were, dancing in time, each of us a syncopated stranger, pulsing in time with one another.
When UM ripped into YYZ (which I hadn’t heard since Detroit 2011!) it was obvious they’d had a few more times to practice this Rush beast, leaving no note unturned, no brow unbeaten, and ran straight into a Sociable Jimmy that defied explanation.
That the next song was “Sweetness” gave more meaning to the first 45 minutes than anything else could have. Masters of timing and ligatures, UM slowing of the energy into a magical place could only reinforce how special the night could be. If you think Umphrey’s is all about Rage, I implore you to listen to this song, swaying lightly with friends, exposed to the apertures of Waful’s cannon blasters waving over the crowd. Dueling guitars, amazing keys, and enough musical chops to open a chophouse. Holy fuck.
But this is a rock band, and nothing says “ROCK IT” like “Got your Milk (Right Here).” The timing changes in this one give it an opportunity for the audience to sing along, dance like no one is watching, and have a chance to not even remember their name. “Rise up. Don’t you want to be in the fast seat? Get your picture in a magazine?” I literally was belting it out now.
Then Joel with the keys, taking us to the bridge. Aron Manger is with him (From Disco Biscuits/Conspirator) Crashing cymbals. Myers is on fire. Jake still hasn’t gotten serious yet. Bayliss is in a great mood: Notre Dame is winning. Stasik doing some foot stunting, but nothing wild yet. End set one. I told Kate and her friends I’d be back, and went up top to check in with the crew.
Set break may be my favorite time of an entire concert. Except at Umphrey’s and Phish, for which the lines for the men’s room exceeds the line for the ladies’ room by about a 4:1 margin. The things you hear in line – better reserved for the memoirs. I went up to the top to find the rest of my friends, hear about their first set, and grab a beer. The amphitheater was about half full – maybe 800 people tops, so there was room pretty much everywhere. Security was cheery, even helpful, and the venue was like a miniature Pine Knob, without the hill in the back. Hugs were traded, smokes smoked, and we gathered at the top as UM came back onstage.
Mr. 7 feet tall in the front row had mentioned he heard them warming up during sound check with Panama, and the friends that I drove down with had been debating Van Halen (David vs. Sammy) as we drove into the hotel parking lot, but when the first notes hit, it was kinda unbelievable. I said, “I’m going down front” and one of our friends joined me. My feet flew over the steps, we navigated the aisleway like antelope, and found our way back to the front rail. “YOU CALLED THIS SHIT!” I said to my 7-ft tall friend, giving him a huge hug.
It’s hard sometimes not to think that setlists are played for you personally, like some sort of cosmic joke the universe plays on you. As I reflected on my own journey, and being reduced, recently to papers piled, I cried a little. Morning Song (Mourning Song) I’m a sucker for a ballad, and nobody does it like Bayliss. But we know how it ends, “I know the night seems long / It’s all going to be okaaaaaay-aaaaayyyyyy”. And I felt better. I put on the mustache. I was ready for what was next. I left my fingerprints.
If there ever were a song to get you out of a slump, it might be Miss Tinkle’s Overture. That these cats have “overtures” should be enough, but if there is one song that builds, and builds, and builds, and delivers, it’s tinkle’s. As the long stanzas built, the Waful canons above climbed and climbed, and we took turns raising our fingers up to the sky each time. I’m pretty sure Kate was loving the experience, seeing the bliss across her face, and the faces of the rest of the rail was worth the drive alone.
I love to get down and dirty, and when Push the Pig fired up, it’s like everyone all of a sudden got a foot shorter. Knees went in and out. Heads bounced up and down like a slayer concert.
Then they played “Flying” which I’d never heard before. Phantasy tour says that’s because it hasn’t been played since 2008 in Geneva, NY. Loved it. They went back into Pig, then began the segment of the show we’ll refer to as “Transformational.” Not just, “I was unhappy, then I became happy” kind of transformational, but more like, ‘There was an energy building up inside of me that was going to come out, one way or another, and there would be nothing that could stop it” kind of transformational.
On the 2010 UM Fall Sampler was this song called “Conduit” that probably got more plays on my CD player than anything I’d ever heard before. If I had to pick one song that got me into UM more than anything else, it would have been this song, on that CD sampler. Generous comes the gift, my friends. This gift, as it were, started out as Conduit, and at a time when it couldn’t get any better, there were the rifts of what could only be Glory. I had to shut my eyes, lest my eyes somehow run out of tears and leave me unable to open them.
I know I admitted that I was a sucker for a ballad, but I’m an even better sucker for when a guitar sings alone. If there is an anthem to life, this must be it. Each time Jake stood tall with a spotlight from above, the universe did amazing things for us at Iroquois. Escape. Love. Light. Rebirth. The newness of someone experiencing this for the first time. With my eyes shut, I didn’t know where it was coming from but I received hugs from left, right, and behind me. “You’re so beautiful to watch,” Kate said, dancing slowly to the song, “thank you so much.” I was at a complete loss. People I didn’t know, sharing an arm, a shoulder, a glance, a look, and love.
As glory ended, the men went back into conduit, and this time when I closed my eyes, I was able to summon a power inside of me, a warrior’s power, a samurai’s power, and lift my chin up high. I felt my back straighten out, my neck crack, and I felt about an inch taller. I raised my arm in the air, feeling the light. “YES!” I heard shouted from the people around me. They’d witnessed the transformation, and as they began Kimble, I was dancing as a new person.
With a spring in my step, a smile on my face, and dry tears on my cheeks, I felt blissed. If you’ve been there, then you know, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. When the lights went down and Joel soloed on keys for Kimble, I was again in awe of the mastery of music that appeared before my eyes, delighted my ears, and the crowd that propped me up when I may have otherwise fallen over. I knew it was coming thought – the beginning of the end.
There is a toll to be paid for all of this insanity. That toll will be collected by the Snucka. If I had to pick one song to show someone the attitude that UM represents, I’d pick Snucka. I sang it to Kate, and anyone else who would listen. I thought about Sparky’s, and how it was torn down. I could smell Stasik’s need for a shower. And if tonight was about anyone, it was about Joel and his run for President. I think everyone should elect Joel, if only that we know he’ll actually pay the snucka. I love how they break it down, give a chance to get low, and I swear Joel threw in some WOMP beats. It was now about 11:30, and I’d been told they’d never play past 11, so we were in double bonus overtime, and still no encore. My mind was reeling, what would it be?
A wonderful sister on my left saw Kate dancing, and I told her it was Kate’s first show. At this point, right during Snucka, she glitter-bombed her face, sending her reeling. Have you ever seen bliss? It looks like this.
At Red Rocks, UM opened with All in Time, an epic 20-minute version of which I heard on the way back home from Kentucky via Jam On. Epic because it was Red Rocks, epic because it was 20 minutes, and Epic because, they left it unfinished. After a bathroom and beer break, UM took the stage once again and finished All in Time, also finishing up their summer tour (on the first day of fall) and leaving a Coda in our hearts. A great note to leave on, reminding us all that there is no need to hurry.
If you’re wondering who I am, I’m the guy with blood boiling, with passions overflowing, when you look your eyes down on me. I feel blessed. Blessed as blessed can be. Thank you Kris, Farag (for president), Jake, Ryan, Brendan, Joel, Waful, and your entire crew that makes this magic happen. I didn’t know when I left Michigan that an entire lifetime could be lived in an evening, but somehow that’s just what happened one night in Louisville, Kentucky, amongst friends old and new, and the memories that we’ll cherish forever.
That, my friends, is why you should go see live music.
Setlist via umphreys.com: (or buy it here.)
Catshot > Liberty Echo > Walletsworth, Syncopated Strangers > Deeper > Syncopated Strangers, YYZ, Sociable Jimmy > Sweetness > Got Your Milk (Right Here)^
Panama, Morning Song, Miss Tinkle’s Overture, Push the Pig > Flying > Push the Pig, Conduit > Glory > Conduit, Kimble, Pay the Snucka*
All In Time**
^ with Aron Magner on keys
* with The Rain Song (Led Zeppelin) jam
** with Rock and Roll Part 2 (Gary Glitter) jam