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Saturday, November 15

Review & Photos: Umphrey's McGee - F.M. Kirby Theater - Wilkes-Barre, PA - 10/30/2014

Umphrey’s McGee stays with newer catalog, sprinkles with fan favorites & two rarer covers in Wilkes-Barre.

Midway through their fall tour, Umphrey’s McGee rolled into the F.M. Kirby Theater in Wilkes-Barre, PA for a warm-up show prior to their sold out Halloween show in Boston.  With most of the East Coast jam community out west in either Las Vegas or Denver, a remote venue in Eastern PA and the show being midweek, the stage was set for the small crowd in attendance to see what they call a “sleeper” show.  As the crowd began to filter in, it became apparent that this would be a Halloween celebration for many of those in attendance as celebrities Gumby (who later integrated himself into the show), Scooby Doo, Fred Flintstone, TWO Where’s Waldos, Papa Smurf, and the entire cast of the Pirates of the Penzance were in house for the festivities.  Umphrey’s Twitter page noted that it would be a Ryan “Pony” Stasik setlist on this night, so all those present were certain they would be getting a metal show, and UM certainly did not disappoint.  However, before they would come on stage, up and coming act Dopapod had an opportunity to get the crowd in the right mindset.  The quartet came onstage at 7:30pm on the dot (advertised showtime) and as this is not the norm at most shows, the venue was almost completely empty.  Rather than just going through the motions however, Dopapod proceeded to lay down multiple tracks with incredible energy for the few hundred already in attendance.  The set, while clocking in at only about 45 minutes, was full of on point jamming by band, which looks poised to move up in the hierarchy of jam bands in the years to come.  After Dopapod concluded their set, the crowd and late comers were treated to songs from the movie Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory while they awaited the main event of the evening, which was to come shortly.  
As is very common with UM, the band came out onto stage as a pre-recorded instrumental played.  As the band took over the reins for You Got the Wrong Guy, the tempo began to pick up from the norm as the band transitioned seamlessly into Push the Pig.  The composition portion of the song was executed with precision before Kris Myers laid down a syncopated drum beat for the base of the jam that was to come.  Layering in hypnotic bass lines and a pair of transcendent guitar riffs, Ryan, Jake, and Brendan began a slow build coupled with mesmerizing lights by the one and only Jefferson Waful.  This slow build would culminate in a blistering solo by Jake Cinninger as only he can deliver before falling back into the main outro theme of Push the Pig.  After a brief acknowledgement of the crowd/venue by Brendan Bayliss, he and Jake began the introductory notes to the recognizable Uncle Wally.  This version didn’t extend past the normal boundaries of the song however; the dueling guitars of Jake and Brendan were incendiary as they eventually broke down into the bare elements of the melody dissolving into a blissful flow by all band members. 
 Just as the jam appeared to be coming to a close, the band quickly segued into an up tempo Domino Theory which would be the first time the band really stretched its improvisational legs in the first half.  The first of two songs off 2011’s Death By Stereo, Domino’s jam would have multiple phases moving from a nice funk beat featuring double bass by Kris and driving bass lines by Ryan and Jake playing a nice little ditty over Brendan’s riffs.  This built to another dueling moment for Jake and Brendan with nice fills by Ryan before moving into a more electronic trance sound.  The entire band was in full force as even Andy Farag was pummeling the bongos in sync with Kris on the toms.  The entire crowd seemed to be moving and bobbing their heads in unison as the song flowed back into the predominant theme before Jake put the icing on the cake by melting a few faces with another display of his never ending speed on the frets to finish the track.  
After the high energy of Domino Theory, the band and crowd alike needed a few minutes to cool off, and UM acted accordingly dropping into the relaxed reggae intro of FF.  Joel Cummins received his first opportunity to shine on a night dominated by high powered guitar work, as he took his time to deliver an amazing solo on the ivories.  This was followed by exceptional sticking by Kris complimented perfectly by the percussion playing of Andy that would begin another of Umphrey’s signature builds.  The reggae beginning FF was merely the calm before the storm, as on pretty much any night of UM, the fireworks are only subdued for short spans of time.  Ryan and Kris were in perfect sync with one another creating a tsunami wave of music that was being ridden by guitar gurus Jake and Brendan as they blew the roof off the house on this number.  Joel finished the song as he had earlier started the jam, on the keys.  
After a routine 2nd Self, Morning Song would follow with a Jake solo in which he once again proved that whether or not he is playing 1 note or 100, it’s all about how you play them and how you get to where you’re going.   His soulful solo began with extended notes that flowed beautifully from his axe as he slowly increased tempo to a pace not easily comprehended.  A well placed version of Similar Skin’s The Linear would transition into the first of two rare covers played on the evening.  The opening notes of ZZ Top’s Cheap Sunglasses, played for only the 21st time by UM, meant an instant sing-a-long for the crowd and they quickly obliged.  A funky beat jam immediately developed out of the song, which included a syncopated stop and go jam with the customary fan “woos” and synchronized dancing by Ryan & Brendan.  The band closed the jam by fading out before one last crescendo to finish up the high-energy set.
As the crowd began to filter back in from set break (there was a MASS exodus from the theater as they were VERY strict on smoking inside the venue), the energy in the room became almost palpable. Umphrey’s would begin the second frame with the oft-played instrumental, Eat.  This version featured very well executed full band interplay as they weaved back and forth from multiple themes.  Upon the conclusion of the song, Brendan made sure to point out that Gumby in the front row was freaking him out.  This would come into play later during the encore… After conveying his thoughts to the crowd, Brendan led the band into the first of 4 songs off UM’s new album Similar Skin to be played that night, No Diablo.  The happy-go-lucky song was a nice breather after the heater that was Eat, and as seen on many nights, Ryan and Kris were bobbing their heads back and forth in unison, making for an almost comical feel to the song.  After the turndown, the band would move into the 2nd of two covers of the night, The Beatles’ I Want You So Bad (She’s So Heavy).  The brief but fiery rendition would be followed by another instrumental, this time the UM Staple #5.  
#5 would feature Andy and Kris complementing one another perfectly on bongos and trap respectively while Jefferson Waful took full advantage of his bag of tricks, displaying multiple graphics in an array of colors throughout the tune.  Little Gift would follow, a great rock anthem off 2014’s Similar Skin, and it would be successful in getting the entire crowd up and on its feet.  It was quite obvious that this song is definitely one that the Pony likes to ride as he laid down driving bass lines during the jam portion of the song.  The jam would eventually dissolve into the opening notes of The Bottom Half, another UM classic, which would contain the most organic jam of the evening.  All six members seemed to be one as they weaved an epic landscape that transitioned seamlessly from one theme to the next with no jarring changes that sometimes can characterize Umphrey’s jamming.  
Another fan favorite would follow as the entire crowd erupted to the opening stanza of Wappy Sprayberry.  Upon starting the jam, Kris quickly dropped into a drum & bass rhythm combined with the repetitive bass drops by Ryan.  The band laid down one layer at a time, slowing building the orchestral progression of the song.  This build would culminate in the climax crescendo of the show before a quick key change back into the outro of the song, which descended into October Rain.  The 3rd song played off Similar Skin would be brief however as the band quickly transitioned into the title track from the same album.  The jam portion of the song would include an almost tribal drum beat that forced the entire crowd into uncontrolled submission as they all began to dance in unison.  Jake would finish off with one last gargantuan solo at blinding speeds before the song bubbled down into nothingness, making it back to back sets that ended without a huge explosion of sound as is typical of many UM shows. 
As the band waited back stage, the crowd began the oft-made chant, “We want the Umph, Gotta have that Umph!”  As the band came onstage, Ryan had made a wardrobe change, emerging wearing a Waldo costume.  The band would break in Booth Love with Ryan moving around stage periodically hiding behind amps, Kris, and Andy respectively.  The jam would build to quite a rousing apex, which in fact, would prompt Gumby to jump up onto stage right at the peak in a moment of pure bliss.  Gumby’s overzealous nature was met with incredible enthusiasm from the crowd who erupted at the sight of the green character on stage.  It was short-lived as security quickly tossed him offstage, but the music wasn’t hindered at all as the entire band continued without missing a beat (despite Brendan’s uneasiness with Gumby) and finished the song in high fashion.
Typically an Umphrey’s McGee show could be categorized as either a rock show or a dance show.  On a night that was definitely a Pony-inspired set list, there was lots of metal inspired tunes and hard jamming.  While this might not have been the best show for a first timer to introduce them to the band, there were plenty of highlights and very little to be unhappy about.  On a night when Umphrey’s could have simply taken the night off, considering their spectacle to be played the following night in Boston, they continued to display why they are one of the best jam bands, or bands period for that matter, in the music industry today.  They continue to deliver incredible shows night in and night out, year by year while maintaining one of the most fan-integrated mentalities in music history, and I for one, am hoping it doesn’t stop anytime soon.
Set 1: You Got the Wrong Guy> Push The Pig, Uncle Wally>Domino Theory, FF> 2nd Self, Morning Song, The Linear> Cheap Sunglasses*
Set 2: Eat, No Diablo, I Want You (She’s So Heavy)@, #5, Little Gift> The Bottom Half, Wappy Sprayberry> October Rain> Similar Skin
Encore: Booth Love
* - ZZ Top Cover
@- Beatles Cover
Opening Act: Dopapod
Words: Bret Campbell
Photos: Mike Geller 
 ©Grateful Music LLC