Umphrey’s McGee: Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA 2/7/10

In the realm of the modern day jam band, Umphrey’s McGee is a unique species to that kingdom.  With unreal jam ability and non-stop touring, Umphrey’s has made their mark over the past decade as one of the most fan-devoted bands that knows no limits and truly lives for the music.   Saturday night, fans were medicated with a high dosage of Umph as the Chicago-based sextet came back to the Electric Factory in Philly for an intimate show.       

Setting the vibe early in the night was Eric Krasno and Chapter 2 who took the stage around 8:30pm.  Taking time outside of his band Soulive, Krasno got the evening started with jazz-funk originals “Be Alright” and “76” with Nigel Hall on vocals/keys, Louis Cato on bass and Adam Deitch on drums.  Each note seemed like it was being squeezed out of a high pressure vessel as Kraz sought emotion from inner depths to display through his guitar playing.  It was especially evident as Kraz and Co. covered The Beatles’ “Get Back” in a jazz/groove instrumental with the audience’s accompaniment.

With little time in between sets, a blue haze overtook the stage as the mood shifted and Umphrey’s McGee marched on to what sounded like a victorious battle theme, though I couldn’t lay my ear on it.  It could have been something Star Wars related that I missed, being that the band had action figures of Yoda, Chewbacca and R2D2 mounted on top of the amps.  

Nearly 13 years after forming at the University of Notre Dame, Umphrey’s McGee has continued to bring originality and incredible improvisation to each show they play.  Almost never having a set list even remotely similar to the night before has kept the band on their toes throughout their career along with keeping fans guessing.   With intense lasers and colorful strobe lights streaming into the audience, Umphrey’s opened with a double shot, “Wappy Sprayberry” which led directly into “Partyin’ Peeps.”  

Umphrey’s smoothly transitioned into the intro to “Cemetery Walk” as Joel Cummins laid down the distinct opener on the keys.  Midway through the show, which also closed the first set, Eric Krasno joined Umphrey’s onstage for an extended jam of “Pay the Snucka” featuring a tri-fecta jam between Umph-guitarist Jake Cinninger, Umph-bassist Ryan Stasik, and Eric Krasno.  

After a short break, Umphrey’s came back out for a second set that included “Ringo, Mean Mr. Mustard” and “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.”  Making my way back into the crowd, I came across a fan sporting dreadlocks and dressed up in a ballerina bottom with wings and a pink wand in hand.  She said she was Miss Tinkle, from Umphrey’s song “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” off of their 2004 release, Anchor Drops.  Unfortunately they didn’t include that one in the set list, but it just shows you the love for the band from its passionate fans.

Returning to chants of “we need the Umph, gotta have that Umph,” Umphrey’s McGee closed the three hour plus set with part two of “Cemetery Walk.”  Leaving no rock unturned and finishing what they started, heavy solos by guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger filled the finale made for a fitting ending to a fantastic night of jam greatness.     

In light of the Olympic tradition that has been kept alive over the course of the past two weeks, I think it’s only fitting to explain that Umphrey’s McGee is most definitely one of the few torch bearers of the current jam band generation.  As heir to the throne from the likes of Phish and the Grateful Dead, their loyal fan base hope that Umphrey’s continues to press the outer limits and boundaries known to jam while remaining true to the music.      

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