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Friday, December 30

Sweet Home Chicago- Welcome Back, Umphrey's McGee 12-28-16, A review by Michael Wallentin with photos by Aaron Bradley

Sweet Home Chicago : Welcome Back Umphrey’s Mcgee  
The Riviera Theatre
Chicago, Illinois 
Dec. 29 2016

Set 1 : Similar Skin > Domino Theory, Nothing Too Fancy > Kimble, 
Bridgeless > No Comment, Example 1, Memories of Home*, Gone for Good*, 
Make It Right 

Set 2 : Wappy Sprayberry, Bridgeless, Remind Me, Ringo > Cheap Sunglasses, 
Miss Tinkles Overture, Linear, Upward 

Encore : 40’s Theme 
  • Jake and Brendan both on acoustics for Memories of Home, Gone for Good. 
Chicago welcomed back Umphrey’s Mcgee with exuberant applause last night at the Riviera. It had been sometime since the band had graced us with a run of New Year’s Eve performances. It had been since 2011 when Umphrey’s and their crew were here last for shows of this nature related to New Years Eve. The last appearance in the Riviera Theatre dates back to February 2014. While a few members aren’t Illinois natives, the band had made quite the stomping ground out of the city itself. Each year they have been growing endlessly more popular here in the midwest, with countless tours, and an annual appearance at Summer Camp Music Festival, billed with moe. However, no matter where they go, fans here in Chicago will always consider this home for the band. 

For many of us at the show, we were excited and ready to move in from the cold for a wonderful night of music. Of course, for those still outside, the scene was bustling, bringing the crowds a few blocks away from the theatre. There were the random shirt vendors, pin boards, and of course those looking to buy or sell tickets. Many of the Umphrey’s related groups on social media were swarming with folks who had not found their tickets. And the sellers outside were God’s in their own shoes. For the most part generously, and rarely seen today, they were selling the well-known hot commodity of a ticket for a fair price. I even witnessed a few miracles. 

The room was packed, and it was filled with energy and excitement, anticipation, and cheers. Not a soul in that building wasn’t tuned into when exactly the band would come out onstage. Shortly after 8 pm, they finally did. And the entire room had erupted into an explosion. They had started the night of music with a well placed ‘Similar Skin’, that rolled solidly into ‘Domino Theory’ A quick one-two punch that set precedent for the rest of the night. The edgy nature was presented quickly, with effortless dueling between Jake and Brendan. Reminding us once again was Bayliss about a Cub’s World Series victory. The boys were definitely back in town. 

Always a favorite amongst fans was "Nothing Too Fancy" and this started the getaway for what Umphrey’s does best. Wheeling the euphoria of what the band can do to make you dance, opening up all sorts of channels for the guitarists, and drummers alike. This also presents another talent of Umphrey’s Mcgee. Diversity. They were seeming to be full steam ahead. Soon segueing into ‘Kimble’, and fishing with it before finding way into the intro that brought ‘Bridgeless’. The boys sounded promising, and concise with Bayliss at the peak of vocals tonight.

While most would consider the set to be nothing much on paper, it was something to behold. An excellent version of ‘Example 1’ made way for what many of us were most likely not expecting. The band has taken their brakes out, while Jake and Brendan took out their acoustics. In memory of a close friend, the band plays “Memories of Home” as Brendan announces to the crowd. With ease the band erased an 896-show gap, the largest of the night, and of recent past for any song in the catalogue. They followed the pace with an amazingly bold move for three songs to bring us all back to Earth before the second set.
The band had their minds set in stone for the first, so why would we expect anything different from the second set? With very little gimmicks, and very little hindrance the band showed up with their ideas, executing them each and every time. Unlike the first set, there would only be slowing down as we hit an excellently placed ‘Remind Me’. A song that has shown itself to be quite the weapon. Picking right back up again, however with a ringing salute to what is ‘Ringo’. After tooling around deftly placing cascading rhythms throughout the tune, they popped into a fiery cover of ZZ Top’s ‘Cheap Sunglasses’

Umphrey’s came out guns blazing, and the firefight didn’t die down until the last note of the night. Although ‘Miss Tinkle’s Overture’ was probably the least anticipated song for myself, the band had given a great performance of it last night. The crowd was ecstatic, and full of life as the second set had found its own name amidst the night. As we edged our way towards the end we were given a few surprises. With an excellent, wailing version of "Linear", they had seemed to have wrapped up. With a delayed and precise entrance into "Upward", another cannon in the arsenal, we floated in and out of soundscapes with great appeal. 

As the band had ended sometime around 11 pm, they exited the stage leaving us wondering what would be the icing. Well, to top off the night, Umphrey’s had brought out one of their best cherries instead. A Standalone ’40’s Theme’ was a high flying and energetic extravaganza to end the night. To say the least, Umphrey’s had brought their A-game for a welcoming first night to their three day Chicago run. I insist that if it's doable, to try and snag a ticket for one of the following two nights at the Aragon Ballroom this December 30th, and 31st accompanied by funk phenomenon, The Motet. Only a few blocks down from the Riviera, many fans won’t have to do much traveling at all. In due tradition, rock, rest, and repeat yall. Happy New Year! ..   

Written by: Michael Wallentin
Photos by: Aaron Bradley

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