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Tuesday, March 15

Review: Umphrey’s McGee - 3/13/2011 - The Fillmore San Francisco, CA


Words and Photos: Kelsey Winterkorn

Our opener blasted the night off with a sound that is true to their name: Big Gigantic. I wasn't familiar with them previously, and was quickly impressed. Near to dubstep bass lines crashed and boomed under live melodic jazz instrumentals by frontman/producer Dominic Lalli. The rich brass sound blared atop deliciously complex drumming by Jeremy Salken, like a gritty James Bond movie soundtrack. Salken reminded me of the layered percussion sounds of Medeski, Martin, & Wood.
The crowd was quickly up and dancing, picking up more energy than most openers you'll see. Frontman Lalli looped keyboard, synth, and bass riffs that ran their automated course as the electric distortion sax and drums danced wildly around the spectrum of highs and lows. The sound was perhaps too gigantic, a lot of fans put in earplugs - a problem because this definitely cuts down the quality of hearing in order to save your eardrums. At the end of their set they asked the crowd to show how they felt as they careened into a hyper speed drum and breaks sound - two guys in the crowd started break dancing on the floor!
For non dubstep fans, I found the electronic content to be very tasteful and appropriate to open up an Umphrey's show. Big G came across as a very multi-talented and creative duo with an interesting mix of prerecorded dj'ing and live improvisations that you will definitely want to see.
Umphrey's McGee is made up of Brendan Bayliss (guitar, vocals), Jake Cinninger (guitar, Moog, synthesizers, vocals), Joel Cummins (keyboards, vocals), Andy Farag (percussion), Kris Myers (drums, vocals), and Ryan Stasik (bass), playing their second show of a two night stand at San Francisco's famous Fillmore Auditorium.  There are so many different moods and moments that happen during an Umphrey's show, and the variety of genre sounds in their songs. This is a band that focuses much more attention to their live performance - with more live recorded albums than studio albums. Compared to last year when I saw them at the SF Regency, I would say they went for slightly more of a vocals route with their setlist, with jazzy grooves in between that reminded me of Karl Denson, with guitar standing in for sax.
I prefer the more astounding speed solos, heavy metal sounds, wild buildup jams, and sudden mood changes of last years performance - unfortunately there was really only one of these in the first set that lasted longer than 2 minutes. Set 2 sped things up a bit in this direction however, with one of my favorite songs Mantis stretched out and brought back again after Hunt Bird Bath. The crowd loved it; dancing, singing along, whooping, and sweaty hands in the air, all energetically sustained throughout the show.  As usual, Cinninger led the 80s rock sound with guitar shredding fun, with Bayliss overlapping his more mellow guitar style underneath then leading vocals. Main drummer Kris Myers had a very impressive setup, with what looked like giant plexiglass shields to avoid sound distortion -- some of the little things that show Umphrey's pays attention to so much detail with ensuring top sound quality.
Lighting designer Jefferson Waful aims to please the eyes and amp up the entire experience. A huge part of the show, he delivers better than any concert lighting I have seen. The color combinations were more complex and creative than last year. The huge array of powerful lights added to every buildup, during chorus vocals for emphasis, sweeping rainbow arcs through the dense fog. Colored strobes flashed during fast solo crescendos, feeling like a psychedelic warp speed willy-wonka adventure. While dark reds and other aggressive shades accompanied Cinninger's metal shredfests.
Umphrey's McGee throws a complex waterfall of sound at the audience, and makes it look easy, with 6 musicians at the top of their game.

Set I: The Fussy Dutchman, Cemetery Walk, Susanah, Tribute to the Spinal Shaft > Deeper > Kid Charlemagne* > 2nd Self, Wellwishers, Hajimemashite, Can’t Ya Hear Me Knockin’^ 

Set II: Mantis > Hurt Bird Bath > Mantis, Girlfriend is Better > Night Nurse, Plunger > The Linear > Plunger, Cemetery Walk II 

Enc: 40’s Theme

Notes: *No vocals (Steely Dan cover) ^with Dominic Lalli on sax (Big Gigantic)