1/3/15 Guest Review
BY YOUSEF BAIG, PHOTOS BY ABBY FOX & CHAD SMITH
We’ve all faced moments where words fall short.
In happiness, sadness, and every differing emotion in-between, there are situations where speechlessness or humbled silence can be the most appropriate reaction.
The show that Umphrey’s McGee put on Saturday night—the last of its five-night stay at The Tabernacle—was the strongest of the week, the most extraordinary, musically, and one of the best they may have ever played.
The final show of this historic run was one of those times where language fails.
Lighting director Jeff Waful even posted on Instagram after, saying, “That’s the best I’ve heard #umphreys sound.” Coming from the unofficial seventh member of the band, that bears weight. He joined the crew in fall 2008, and you can certainly argue that in those six-plus years, he’s seen Umphrey’s at the top of its game.
An introductory “Le Blitz” dove headfirst into the fiery pool of “Wappy Sprayberry,” in a rare spot as the first song of the night. It was triumphant in every way, from the intro to its rocking bridge to Jake Cinninger’s rousing guitar-play during a jam that could have motivated an army for war.
For those that have lived by the rage, rest, repeat motto and powered through all five nights this week, the drum-clapping, guitar-scratching original, “The Bottom Half,” had to have been one of the more sentimental moments of the week. It dropped down to a breathtaking, bass-driven improv section that had genuine emotion behind it as it pushed through the speakers around the room.
The musical Venn diagram, “Syncopated Strangers,” dropped into a crowd-wide sing-along courtesy of “Partyin’ Peeps.” It’s a song that celebrates dedicated fans everywhere, and its lyrics ring true whenever Umphrey’s takes up residency in a distant city. The soloing guitar harmonies blasted through its emphatic peaks with a focused objective: to melt face.
Cinninger and bassist Ryan Stasik came correct on the grooving ways of “Professor Wormbog” before the bashing juxtaposition of rage and bliss from “Rocker Part 2” advanced the improvisational brilliance that had been taking place throughout the first set.
Umphrey’s debuted a fantastic take on guitar legend Jeff Beck’s, “Led Boots,” and followed the last notes of the cover with the first notes of Anchor Drop’s “Mulche’s Odyssey.” The jam section was a weird one, featuring a European sex club bass groove, and drew a shit-eating grin from the Pittsburgh Steelers fan that was plucking it. It steadily grew to the song’s explosive finale, and gave Friday night’s first set some serious competition for best opening half of the run.
The last set would blast off with a raucous start thanks to the wrath of “Bridgeless.” Brendan Bayliss and Cinninger started the jam section by trading off short riffs that resembled The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” The pace quickened and the plot thickened as the guitar-led throw down detonated, and then, Umphrey’s pulled a u-turn with the vibes and dropped into “Hajimemashite” on the back of the Joel Cummins’ keys.
The rocketing emotions of a song that translates to “nice to meet you” in Japanese spun the crowd around under Waful’s bursting white lights with more guitar shredding and Bayliss’ soaring vocals.
What followed will undoubtedly go down as the best jam of the run. Umphrey’s pinched out a “Dump City” that reeked of Hall of Fame potential. Once Kris Myers and Andy Farag laid down the tempo, Stasik began crop-dusting the crowd with his speedy, raunchy rips on the bass. Cinninger’s additions were small but sharp, and could have cut flesh if music notes could take physical form. The band would jump between major and minor sections like they do so well, swinging the mood from dance to chest-beating rock three different times. Umphrey’s wiped and flushed the outro down, but there’s no doubt that this version will continue to float around in the days and weeks to come.
Cummins would shine on a majestic journey through “The Crooked One” that segued seamlessly into the bursting energy of the Safety in Numbers original, “Women Wine and Song.” Thousands of voices helped carry the song’s celebration of three life essentials as high and with as much pleasure as any Umphrey’s would play Saturday night.
The unruly crescendos of “Cemetery Walk” gave way for the dance version that built off the same signature piano melody, “Cemetery Walk II.” Like Cinninger had been doing the past two nights, Bayliss took a trip to Planet Cummins to give a little extra to the dance party while the gyrating crowd let loose under the swirling lights.
“No Comment” featured an extended, thunderous buildup that climaxed into the end of “Bridgeless.” Rock hands went airborne and bodies began jolting around on the floor through the maddening ending of Similar Skin’s final track.
There are few songs in Umphrey’s’ repertoire that can close a set with that kind of energy and force. It was a fitting end to the final set of the run.
“We want the Umph” took over the crowd while they anxiously waited for the last encore.
When the band reemerged, Cummins’ lifted his cup to them, and foreshadowed the encore by asking, “Is this really the end?”
Umphrey’s lit the room on fire by unleashing R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” Despite having plenty of originals still left on the table, playing a classic from a Georgia bred band (not to mention a perfectly titled one) was a flawless move to end it on.
The entire room sang along with Bayliss each time he reached the chorus. The encore was short and sweet, and sent everyone back out into the world feeling fine.
There are few bands in this world that can do what Umphrey’s did these past five nights in Atlanta.
Everything was fresh, and the fact that the tank never ran empty is astonishing. Each night exceeded the one that came before it and continuously raised the bar.
And honestly, at this point, there’s only one safe thing to say: Umphrey’s, The Tabernacle, and the herd of fans who attended every single one of those five shows, will never be the same.