Umphrey’s McGee : Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, Hampton Beach NH 7/18/2006

Umphrey’s Mcgee tore through two sets of prog-rock fused jams in front of a mixed crowd of young fan faithfuls and a reasonable chunk of baby booming residents of the seaside town. From the opening notes of “Walletsworth,” of 2004’s Anchor Drops, Umphrey’s generated an initial audience response that overpowered the opening (and arguably more established) act, Galactic. And as the set progressed, they wove their way in and out of a multitude of genres, bounding between reggae, blues, and a gritty funk that held its own against the New Orleans grooves from earlier in the evening.

One of Umphrey’s most impressive feats is their uncanny ability to take that cheesy 80’s “soaring eagle” guitar tone you loved back in high school, and actually make it cool again. The set closing Van Halen classic “Panama” drove that point home, and the crowd sing-a-long that transpired exposed the thin line between the band and their growing fan base. Their ambitious-yet-selfless stage presence has earned the Midwest outfit a strikingly large nationwide audience. But its not all due to kitschy covers. While most dual-guitar bands relegate one axe man to the rhythm lines, Umphrey’s guitar section is a battle of paralleled riffs that put the musical conversation into the context of a devil and an angel, both vying for the attention of the poor soul whose shoulders they’re currently occupying.

Towards the end of the evening’s festivities, Galactic’s sax/harp player, Ben Ellman, sat in for a fiery solo on “Women Wine and Song” before the night wound to a close with an encore of “The Triple Wide.” The latter incorporated more retro-nods with teases of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” as well as Ted Nuggent’s “Stranglehold.” The musical collage it created is a prime example of the cross-pollination of musical genre’s that’s made Umphrey’s Mcgee what they are today.

By packing their sets full of road-tested fan favorites, as well as tips of the hat to their own musical influences, the group has managed to develop a reputation as a “fun-loving” band, whose live show will be completely different night after night. So as their following grows across the country, and even the baby boomer demographic starts understanding what the fuss is all about, it’s safe to say folks are going to start wondering “What’s Umphrey’s Mcgee going do next?” Whether members of the band even know the answer to that is questionable, but everyone in attendance seemed more than happy to wait and see.

Photos by Andrew Bruss

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