BY YOUSEF BAIG, PHOTOS BY ABBY FOX & CHAD SMITH
With each night surpassing the one before it, Umphrey’s McGee continues to impress during its five-night excursion in Atlanta.
Friday night’s opening act was the most improv-heavy start Umphrey’s has had this run. With four songs spanning over an hour, the shortest piece would be a touch under fifteen minutes.
The techno metal intro, “You Got the Wrong Guy,” queued up one of the songs that got scratched off Thursday’s setlist, “Higgins.” Wasting no time to dive into the first extended section of the night, Jake Cinninger slid his left hand down the neck of his guitar before he shot off what would be the defining riffs of the jam. It had a classic rock feel that could score a super hero movie, and went airborne off of Kris Myers and Andy Farag’s mile-a-minute work on drums and percussion.
“Der Bluten Kat,” which probably translates to “musical triathlon,” hit the running portion of the event like it was first place or bust. After the Mozart section, Umphrey’s unraveled “DBK” to its core and stretched its DNA for evolution. Joel Cummins painted the backdrop with picturesque piano melodies that set the mood for the distant but near, made for sunrise additions from Cinninger.
Myers then laid down a backbeat as the man with the baseball cap stepped over to Planet Cummins for the second trip in as many nights, to give an extra pair of hands to Grandmaster Flash’s, “The Message.” It certainly pushed over anyone in the room that was close to the edge, as Umphrey’s put a funky spin on the ‘80s hip-hop classic before segueing to the end of “Der Bluten Kat.”
Slamming guitars and piano drove “2×2” into a wandering section where no one really took lead, so Brendan Bayliss decided to share his feelings through his guitar, teasing “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” for the hell of it. An effective pause before the explosive end section of “2×2” set up the stretch fans who bought tickets for all five nights had waited anxiously for.
Bayliss and Cinninger traded their electric guitars for acoustic and dove into the regal rhythms and hypnotizing harmonies of “Uncle Wally.” A flawlessly maneuvered “Nemo,” “Sweetness,” and back into “Nemo,” opened the gates for the full band debut of Crosby Stills & Nash’s “Southern Cross.”
As unexpected and exciting as any cover Umphrey’s has ever done, it did the legendary trio’s harmonies and acoustic expertise justice and capped off a set that swung from rock to hip-hop to folk music like it was nothing.
The progressive rock ballad “Hurt Bird Bath” ignited the second set with its ripe improv potential. It meandered through a scattered start to the jam section but found its stride once Ryan Stasik hit that excitable electro bass effect on time with Myers’ transition to an electronic snare and rolling hi-hat beat.
Umphrey’s continued the emotional roller ride with a dive to the soaring styles of “Upward,” and switched keys into the end of “Hurt Bird Bath.” Bayliss and Cinninger furthered the conspiracy theory that they’re physically un-identical guitar clones of each other with merciless play that mirrored and fed off the energy in the room.
A dirty, alien-like “Push the Pig” softened the blow for the sonic scale-riding tale of “The Fussy Dutchman.” The man they call Bayliss continued to steal the show—as he has the entire run—making the case that there’s been a switch in lead facemelter.
The Death By Stereo original, “Conduit,” was the most experimental of Friday’s nights jams. Cinninger crouched down to his pedal board to search for the right effect while Stasik laid the leading bass line in front of Cummins’ tornado siren backdrop.
The first sit-in since Mad Dog and His Filthy Little Secret on New Year’s Eve followed. Former STS9 bassist and Atlanta native, David Murphy, replaced Stasik for Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh” and “Another Brick in the Wall.”
“Mail Package” closed out the second set behind its head-banging, rock hand raising, air guitar enticing finale.
One of the unforgettable moves of the run will be the band’s wardrobe change for the encore. Umphrey’s returned to the stage wearing white bath robes to compliment how comfortable every Tabernacle crowd has made them feel this week.
A two-headed monster of fan-favorites filled the encore slot. “Glory” came before a reprise of Grandmaster Flash’s, “The Message” that Umphrey’s unleashed during the first set “Der Bluten Kat.” Cinninger joined Cummins on the keys again for what will probably be the only time in history that song gets played in robes—publicly.
Umphrey’s flipped the genre switch once again from hip-hop to rock, closing the curtains on night four Jacuzzi ready.
Even though Bayliss has been showing out this week, Cinninger hasn’t had any let up at all. He still wields the power of mind control over the thousands of fans that watch him play every night. His movements and his emotions, both vocally and musically, continue to energize the room while he’s on stage. The collective guitar play between both axe men is improving with each show, and it’s refreshing to see that, after all these years, their ceiling continues to grow.
Ending Friday night’s show with “Slacker” was well-placed for more reasons than one. Umphrey’s continues to top the night that preceded it to the delight of every fan that’s been right there with them since Tuesday.
As its chorus goes, and continues to ring true, we are yet to ever witness their best.