BY YOUSEF BAIG, PHOTOS BY ABBY FOX
The only predictable thing about Umphrey’s McGee is its unpredictability.
The third night of the five-night residency at The Tabernacle followed a monstrous, sold out, three-set New Year’s Eve throw down that sent thousands of spinning heads and aching bodies back out into the world.
A rational train of thought would be, “It’s New Years Day and everyone is struggling. It’s the middle of the run, bring out the acoustics.”
The boxcars on that train would be boring, clean, and untagged though.
So instead, Umphrey’s came out swinging, taking “Bathing Digits” into the live debut of the hardest rocking track on Similar Skin, “Hindsight.” Jake Cinninger’s gravelly vocals removed any fogginess that may have lingered in the room and unhinged any dragging feet on the floor.
The one predictable (and certainly appropriate) song that followed was “Hangover.” The fan-favorite was lifted by two thousand back-up vocalists all the way into a funky jam powerful enough to cure anyone’s struggling soul the day after one too many drinks.
A floor-shaking “Domino Theory” preceded the distorted electro polka vibes of “Prowler” before segueing into “2nd Self.” Brendan Bayliss unleashed one of his best solos of the run, serving up shredded guitar, shredded lettuce, and shredded cheese on the Local Band Does O.K. standout.
The “Utopian Fir” that followed would be one of those rare moments that remind us that this band is, in fact, human like the rest of us. The jam was masterfully done with soaring guitar and piano melodies playing off each other, but then a collective miscue caused what seemed like a premature jump into the reggae section. It wasn’t overt enough to ruin it, and the band extended the dub section to fill the gap.
Thursday night’s first cover would be the song that touched the hearts of every blue jean wearing, Breakfast Club watching child of the ‘80s: Simple Mind’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” In similar fashion to the version played last February in Detroit, Bayliss jumped on the soap box and preached about all the positivity and possibilities that come with a new year.
Another appropriate inclusion to the show was a hearty “Resolution.” It featured two jams: the first rose steady, leaning on Kris Myers’ hi-hat beat and Joel Cummins’ organ backdrop; the second was controlled disorder that was can only be described as indescribable.
Umphrey’s would take the “Resolution” outro into the ending of New Year’s Eve’s “1348” to bring the first set of 2015 to a close.
The opening act for the second set would be, musically, one of the most impressive stretches the band has had the entire run.
When Cinninger let loose the opening notes of “Tribute to the Spinal Shaft” the crowd erupted. Ryan Stasik’s bass lines ran steady on the jazzy instrumental, and the bridge to the jam section was built so thick that heads rocked and hands were bouncing like they were dribbling a giant basketball. Like a heady Stuart Scott would say, the improv was as cool as the other side of the pillow. Both guitarists played like mirrors of each other with riffs rolling like yo-yos and “Bridgeless” teases driving the crowd mad.
The build was remarkable, and then without warning, Umphrey’s smacked the sound waves with “Sociable Jimmy.” What would surely be one of the marquee moments of the run, Cinninger stepped over to Planet Cummins and took lead on an interstellar hotel elevator piano jam that was rich with bass and skipping drums.
The rock and electronic dance marriage known as “Miami Virtue” went through a gauntlet of emotions en route to a cover that hadn’t been played since 2003—Bob Marley’s “Lively Up Yourself.”
After the quick trip to Jamaica, Umphrey’s debuted a new original, “Full Frontal.” It was a dance party in the truest sense, with Cummins’ lounge style keys defining a track that felt as good as any on the night.
The band segued into “Phil’s Farm,” bouncing between happy countryside vibes and angry distortion like it’s the soundtrack to a farmer telling his livestock how much he loves them before killing them. The jam section wielded the kind of power that shakes your insides, bridged together by pounding drums, deep bass lines, Arabian guitar harmonies, and brooding keys that matched the black and white contrast lighting director Jeff Waful had created with their silhouettes.
“The Floor” slammed the second set shut with its undeniable fury, and set the stage for the best encore of the week.
A brief Dr. Dre tease flipped into Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” but the true highlight of the encore would be “JaJunk.” Bayliss went up a few octaves and broke out into Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” midway through the Anchor Drops staple. The second part of “JaJunk” had all the elements of a traditional Umphrey’s facemelt, and capped off the swing night of the run in serious style.
Something has to be said for the man who never says a word on stage, Andy Farag. He’s like the offensive lineman of the band, the unsung hero who does all the dirty work and labors as hard as any. His work as the percussionist stretches the legs of every drum beat Myers plays. Whether he’s sliding through the chimes, banging away on the congas, tapping ever so gently on the triangle—whatever it is—his additions polish every sound the group makes.
Umphrey’s took the flex night of the run and torched it with bad intentions. The crowd was as loose as it’s been all week, filled with those devoted enough to battle through the post-NYE struggle.
They were certainly rewarded with what will become a new idiom in the Umphrey’s community: never miss a New Year’s Day show.