Umphrey’s McGee @ Red Rocks & Boulder Theatre 2012
Words: Max Filter Pics: Jake Plmack
COLORADO – Umphrey’s McGee is a band that wears many hats. From their variable musical stylings to the unique approach that they bring to concerts such as the StewArt (s2) and UMBowl events, this is a group who has demonstrated their technical prowess, flexibility, and diversity time and time again. Therefore it should not be surprising that a two-night run might showcase two very different sides of the same band. It is even more fitting that UM selected these two nights to be the latest edition in their Live DVD series. These two concerts were exemplary performances that captured all of the best elements of Umphrey’s in 2012, even if many of those elements contradict one another.
It goes without saying that Red Rocks and the Boulder Theater are very different venues, but that is a consideration for musicians as well as fans. There is a stigma to Red Rocks, an energy that excites a group and pushes them to strive for greatness. It is a place where amazing things happen. It is also significantly bigger that many of the venues that Umphrey’s normally plays. The Umphrey’s that we saw on the Rocks was sharp, polished, and professional.
The Boulder Theater is beautiful and well maintained but in all other ways simply a small town concert hall; the kind that UM plays most of their yearly shows at. It’s the kind of place where they are most comfortable, where they are not afraid to be adventurous and make mistakes, where they can be a little less professional and have some fun. So we have two opposing concert experiences, both very much in the spirit of Umphrey’s, yet very different in attitude and atmosphere.
Railroad Earth did a fantastic job opening up the night at Red Rocks. They threw down a solid two hour set that delved deeper and deeper into their psychedelic side as the dusk progressed. The highlight for me was Spring-Heeled Jack, a lengthy instrumental that featured some beautiful yet dark jams. Their elegant string melodies are an odd match up with Umphrey’s, yet they managed to skillfully set an appropriate mood for the evening as the sun was setting behind us.
Umphrey’s took the stage in front of an audience that must have been very close to sold out. The sea of smiling faces looked eagerly down upon the band’s kit that appeared strangely small and tight on the massive stage. The band opened with a massive All In Time that featured a dark Zeppelin/Floyd-esque “Jimmy Stewart” with lyrics which set the bar for the evening pretty high. Puppet String, 2×2, Miami Virtue, and The Linear all featured clean, tight jams that demonstrated technical mastery and stylistic diversity. The cover of Radiohead’s Weird Fishes/Arpeggi was superb, with Kris Myers nailing Thom Yorke’s vocals. A high-energy rendition of The Floor brought us into set break. All members of the band were firing on all cylinders, and with that much momentum in the machine things looked very promising for the rest of the evening. Second set delivered in a big way. Ocean Billy paved the way for Nothing Too Fancy which transitioned (unfinished) into Mulche’s Odyssey; all three were long, jammed out, and crowd pleasing. End of the Road was a rare and welcome treat, especially for such a fast-paced show. The band brought things home by channeling Conduit into the end of Nothing Too Fancy, followed by Plunger which provided a launching ground for the thunderous ending of Puppet String to close out the set. The band returned to the stage for the first encore accompanied by the strings of Railroad Earth for a truly amazing cover of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir that brought the house down. And as people refused to leave, Umphrey’s graced the stage one last time with the fan favorite Jajunk to bring the evening to a close.
The following night in Boulder was a different sort of affair. It had the feeling of a house party with all of your friends, and Umphrey’s was just there hanging out so they could rock for you. It was easy to tell that they were having fun. The opening heavy metal “Jazz Odyssey” Jekyll & Hyde gave way to the delightful awkward tension of White Man’s Moccasins. The awkward yet danceable Comma Later followed (this was my first time hearing this one and I must say I enjoy it). Bridgeless was the high energy center of the set, being followed by a mellow Water, a jammed out Slacker, Crucial Taunt, and the always fun Resolution which segued back into the ending of Bridgeless to finish the set. First set was fun, but things really got wild during second set. Umphrey’s pulled out all the stops and opened up with Wizard Burial Ground, after which all else was chaos. August was an old-school treat, and Deeper > Crooked One was a fun combo. Andy’s Last Beer was probably most representative of the evening, a classic track that’s fun and a little sloppy but doesn’t see the light of day all that much anymore. There is a little more pressure on UM to perform these days than when they used to play bars back in college, but on special nights like this one that magic, care-free feeling comes back. The new track Liberty Echo was a nice addition to the evening and it should be interesting to see how it evolves in the future. The barn-burner Miss Tinkle’s Overture rounded out the set to the supreme satisfaction of the crowd. Keeping in the laid back style of the evening, the encore featured Hajimemashite and the inevitable Hangover (which I’m certain more than a few audience members were struggling with the next day).
So there you have it, two different shows giving us two different views of a Umphrey’s McGee that are as different as the venues they were played in: one big and bold, one small and intimate. It’s hard for me to say which I enjoyed more. Both were fantastic representations of a band still in their prime and will be fantastic additions to any fan’s video catalog.