Some concerts are good because the band plays all your favorite songs. Other times, the band doesn’t play any of your favorite songs, but they do play the setlist so well you just don’t care. Last Friday night Umphrey’s McGee managed to pull that trick off.
I’ve seen Umphrey’s McGee a lot over the years — a rough count has this as my 25th show — and a good percentage of those shows have been in Kalamazoo. The band has a tremendous rapport with the town, and it’s something of a home away from home for the band. I knew the night was going to be special when I got there and found this notice pasted to the box office door
I can’t recall ever being at a sold out Umphrey’s show. While it doesn’t look like they’ll ever fully assume the mantle of the “next Phish” it’s still nice to see the crowds coming out to see the band.
The show started with the band entering the stage with Europe’s classic Final Countdown playing, a moment of cheek that was quintessential Umphrey’s. The opening set kicked off with a solid Bottom Half, a song I think is ok, but nothing super special, that transitioned into a phenomenal Ocean Billy. I’m always a fan of the rising sound in Ocean Billy, but this version had a rock edge I’d never heard before, and I’m always a sucker for a good rock edge to a song. JaJunk followed and soon transitioned back to the bottom half of the Bottom Half — sandwiches were another theme of the night. The band then launched into a cover of ZZ Top’s Cheap Sunglasses, which was all the more remarkable because it sounded nothing like a ZZ Top song. Hurt Bird Bath, the new song Wellwishers, and a return to JaJunk finished the set. The setbreak music was a selection of Phoenix songs, which was both appreciated and got my hopes up for a Lisztomania in the second half.
The second set opened with an always raging Miss Tinkle’s Overture that shifted into a short rendition of the AC/DC classic Thunderstruck before building back into the conclusion of Tinkles. The ensuing Cemetery Walk really emphasized the Pink Floyd inspiration to the song, something I had never really noticed until now. The middle section of the second set was framed around Der Bluten Kat, with the band weaving it around Dear Lord and Booth Love, two songs with both brought a slow jam mood to the proceedings. The set ended with dance party Cemetery Walk II and the easy rock Much Obliged.
During the encore break Stasik came out holding a giant inflatable boombox that found its way onstage, with Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes playing as is required by law. The lone encore was a hard edged rendition of Bridgeless, then it was time to go home.
As expected, it was a very solid show from Umphrey’s. While they did not play any of my most favorite songs — no All in Time, Wizard Burial Ground, or the elusive Lisztomania cover — the songs they did play had a nice rock edge to them. Also Jeff Wafull — the lighting tech — absolutely killed it the entire show.
In Waful, who formerly worked for moe., Umphrey’s has found their own Chris Kuroda, and it really does add to the entire experience. If you’ve never seen Umphrey’s before, now is an excellent time to introduce yourself to this fantastic band.