12/30/14 Guest Review

We’re featuring guest reviews of this week’s five-night run at the Tabernacle in Atlanta by UM fan, Yousef Baig. We hope he’ll tell us if he doesn’t like it but….so far, so good. 🙂 

BY YOUSEF BAIG, PHOTOS BY ABBY FOX

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It goes without saying, this is no small task.

To embark on a five-night run in a city that’s nearly 700 miles from your hometown is a rare feat, but Umphrey’s McGee has the stones to pull it off.

You need a catalog large enough (they’ve got it), a fan base rabid and dedicated enough (they do), and a history impressive enough (they played their 2,000th show in November).

Ever since February 6, 2010—the night Umphrey’s and Atlanta confessed their love to each other—there’s been a palpable connection between the band and its Georgia crowds.

It’s that connection that laid the foundation for the four-night New Year’s run at The Tabernacle in 2012, and it’s that connection that brought them back two years later for five.

The beauty of the first night is that everything is the on the table. It’s the tone-setter, and Umphrey’s isn’t the kind of group that eases into anything.

And if you consider how the last Tuesday show in the Peach State went, you’d be what The Rock calls ‘a jabroni’ to expect anything less than a special night.

The first act was unpredictable in all the best ways. “Nipple Trix” opened up the Local Band Does O.K. icebreaker, “Andy’s Last Beer,” which was torn to pieces by Brendan Bayliss. Umphrey’s upped the ante by unleashing the distorted rage train known as “Padgett’s Profile” to send the thousands of bodies facing them into hysteria before the smooth styling of “Thin Air” brought them back down. Guitar harmonies, jazz club keys, and a hip-hop back beat drove the mellow oldie into its Norwegian outro, “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” where Umphrey’s replaces French horns, bassoons, and strings with electric axes, drums, and keyboards.

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The “Blue Echo” that followed would be the first piece to steal the show. It’s an instrumental that’s never failed in the live setting, and once it hit the extended jam section, went on a sonic voyage of pure bliss. Ryan Stasik’s bass teetered back-and-forth to set the groove before the rest of the band jumped into a danceable uplift as strong as any on the night. Jake Cinninger bent each wailing note his guitar let out as the melodies charged the improvisation.

Umphrey’s rode the high, segueing into “40’s Theme,” which has no better home than the South. Bayliss stepped into the spotlight again, shredding the celebratory sing-along of fried food and oversized bottles of beer following a stop-and-go jam in a similar vein to what the band does with “Booth Love.”

The closeout to the first set was another unlikely combination, but flowed seamlessly. “Preamble” cued up an unfinished “Mantis” that journeyed into the newcomer on the block, “Proverbial.” It’s got the flare of a Nate Dogg track mixed with poignant verses, and reeks of improvisation potential. Some of that potential was realized in a soulful segue that peaked into the hard-hitting progressive rock instrumental, “Miss Tinkle’s Overture,” which brought the set to end.

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“Educated Guess,” the only cut Umphrey’s would play Tuesday from Similar Skin, had its moment as the kickoff for the second half, and shook the room at its highest point.

The humble intro of “Ocean Billy” send waves through the crowd as it rose higher and higher into the drop to Joel Cummin’s submarine keys. It’s one of the most impressive ballads in the Umphrey’s arsenal, switching between minor and major keys with Cinninger’s spitfire guitar riffs taking lead during the jam section.

Then, in a move that would make Mugatu proud, Umphrey’s let loose one of their signature mash-ups, “Frankie Zombie.” It’s a hard rock cocktail of White Zombie’s, “Thunder Kiss ’65,” Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s, “Relax,” and Pink Floyd’s, “Have a Cigar” that blew the roof off the building.

The structured disarray of “Triple Wide” took a heavy turn when Umphrey’s began traveling with it. In what could only be described as “disco metal,” it felt like game of catch, throttling back-and-forth between dark and light moods. Jeff Waful took this opportunity to show off his lighting prowess, casting shadows on the band and decorating the organs that rise behind the stage with a flurry of different patterns ranging from porous whites to different hues of stained glass.

Cinninger’s guitar wizardry and a Ted Nugent tease on “Pay the Snucka” took the energy up a few notches past levels that seemed unlikely to be bested prior to an unexpected first night appearance of “Divisions.” It’s a song that features some of the band’s strongest guitar harmonies and vocals along with a, for a lack of a better term, insane percussion breakdown and drum solo by Kris Meyers.

The end of “Divisions” returned to the swinging pendulum of “Ocean Billy.” Bayliss’ vocals soared to slam an exclamation mark on the end of the second set.

Umphrey’s returned to the stage moments later for an encore they more than earned. “Much Obliged” was masterfully dropped into the ending of “Mantis.” The melancholy vocals fueled the dueling guitars that followed for a truly emotional close to night one.

It’s obvious how much Bayliss loves to play in Georgia. He straight clocked in last night, and you could see it in his body language on stage. He moved with emphasis, and when he spoke to the crowd it was genuine. He was feeling it so much he even came out for the encore with a glass of wine in his hand like he really was at home.

The question that lingers is how do you top an opening night like that? The set list was loaded, and musically, that was Umphrey’s McGee at their best.

Captain Obvious also tells us that tonight is New Year’s Eve. Three sets to celebrate the changing of the calendar and the biggest party night of the year.

This isn’t a band that has letdowns, and if last night told us anything, it’s that this is going to be one hell of run.

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