Formed in South Bend, Indiana by Notre Dame students, longtime jam band stalwarts Umphrey’s McGee are still on the road, churning out their own brand of jam, prog/prog metal, trance inducing rock and roll. I have followed the band almost since they formed, as I had friends in the area who were sending me shows back when cassettes were still used and music streaming services were yet to be dreamt up. Twenty-two years after first hearing them I finally got the chance to see them live as part of a two-night stand at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. Having always felt their music was more than a little trippy and trancy I was not surprised to see a warning about the light show as we entered the venue. Some bands don’t pay attention to the effect a great light show can have on a show but Umphrey’s certainly has. As integral to the players on the stage, the lighting was dynamic and explosive at some times and calming and moody at others. While it has nothing to do with the music, I tell you this so you get a feel for the atmosphere the band was trying to create.
Opening with “Maybe Someday” the band kinda eases you in before the guitarist/vocalist Jake Cinniger takes you for a wild ride. A stellar opener, it sets the stage for what is to come. “Red Tape” gets funky and swirly as the song progresses, with the guitars moving in and out, complimented by a thuggishly thick bass line and the kind of percussion that’s gets asses out of seats. It just kept going and growing until they hit that point where everyone was on their feet, truly one of the standout moments of the night. A great closer to a fairly brief first set, the Plunger>Anchor Drops>Anchor Drops selection is spot on perfect with great band interplay, peaks and valleys, and a tasty metallic crunchiness to send you on your way. This set had a little something for everyone and I was anxiously anticipating what the second set would bring.
“Miss Tinkle’s Overture” kicks off the festivities and the crowd is immediately back in the band’s palms. In an interesting note the show featured four songs (including the first set closer & second set opener) off of the bands 2004 Anchor Drops release which perfectly primes their rabid fanbase for the Anchor Drops Redux release this May. Again, the light show is on point and really helped take this show to another level. The band is tight and I mean turn on a dime tight. Angular guitar work, with funky rhythm section work and it always seemed like the keys showed up at the exact right moment. This band in a live setting is not to be taken lightly and they gave the Ryman crowd everything they came to see and then some. I particularly enjoyed “The Triple Wide” when they stretched out and let their freak flag fly. The electronic effects and EDM influence combined with their natural jamminess to give us one of the true standout moments of the night. “In the Kitchen” closed the set before Umphrey’s came out to encore with the rock stomper “Roctopus”. This may have been my favorite moment of the evening and in all fairness, I felt like I hit the jack pot with the setlist. They ran the gamut musically and stylistically yet the entire show fit together nicely and flowed very well. There was never a moment where the energy lagged or the song selection derailed the overall vibe. With 20+ years of back catalog to draw from constructing a set is not always a sure thing but Umphrey’s McGee made it look easy with the masterclass they put on. I had a great time and if you have not had the opportunity to hear or see the band I highly suggest you take the time as they are working at a high level and you are bound to have a good time. Check for more tour dates and videos here: http://www.umphreys.com/the-floor/