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Ringing in the New Year with Umphrey's Mcgee: by Michael Wallentin with photos by:Aaron Bradley
Ringing in the New Year : Umphrey’s Mcgee Tears Down the House.
As I was working my local job as a server for the greater part of the day on the 31st, I couldn’t help but hope I made it for a large part of the show itself. Nervous of the fact I could be stuck with a few tables drawing my departure further away from the time I was supposed to be gone. Sure enough as 8 o'clock rolled by, I was gifted the miracle to leave an entire hour and a half early. I was elated with joy, as I quickly scrambled to change out of my work clothes, and put on some dancing shoes. I had friends to meet, and our favorite band to see together.
Coming up to the Aragon on that night, proved that getting out early from work may not have been in anyone’s favor. A line wrapped around the building without much movement. As I approached the front door for security, I was luckily able to enter the show from the main doors. It, however, still took all of us about twenty minutes to make it the fifty feet through security, with the first set well done. Many people had complained and informed me that they had been standing in line for the greater part of an hour. Frustratingly, missing an entire first set because of the venue's disorganized handling of the crowd. It's fair to say, that the Aragon had botched the entrance process on this night.
Once in, the air was buzzing, and the first set was soon to wrap up. From what I had heard the first set presented many great moments for what would become an excellent night of music. An energetic ‘Fussy Dutchman’ in the second spot was a nice addition. They also turned in an always untouchable performance of ‘Puppet String’. Which to my knowledge, was drawn out, and went to many interesting places as it always should. For me on paper, the highlight, as well as to the ear had to of been ‘Wife Soup’ that rolled steadily into a ‘Dump City’ and right back onto ‘Wife Soup’. An excellent sandwich, and a recording I am actively searching for.
Ending the first set off with a debut original ‘Cut Off’, Umphrey’s had began to show some of their true colors, the special sauce that makes them so unique. To top the set off they introduced Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret Horns, a powerful horn section, to bring an excellent song ’13 Days’ a brand new taste. As for all of us, the end of the set did not mean we were halfway to the end of this night, we had two more full sets to dance through.
Applause erupted as we entered a sexy ‘Booth Love’ infused with the new tones of horns and we were on our way. The much-loved song was followed by the Steely Dan classic ode to Owsley Stanley, "Kid Charlemagne" a cover that broke a five hundred-plus streak of shows since they last played it. And of course, Umphrey's Mcgee nailed the prog-rock masterpiece. Following the classic track was an excellent and especially euphoric ‘Triple Wide’. The room became burning hot. We were given another solidly placed ‘Bottom Half’ to raise the level on the set itself up a notch. Smiles and anticipation lit up the room through the look on everyone’s faces as we made our way into ‘Mad Love’. A newer song, that has lots of flavor. When it seemed they would save the horns for the party in the third set, Mad Dog and his men emerged once again. This time for a high flying take on ‘Comma Later’. The band opened up room for yet another debut with the country-ish phenom Sturgill Simpson’s track ‘Call to Arms’. A true salute to all kinds of music was a perfect way to end the second set.
Shuffling and moving about the room, people made their way around for better views, beers, bathroom runs, and to find old friends and make new ones. We were within an hour of the strike of midnight, and we could feel it coming. People were talking louder,laughing harder, and becoming more keen to the embrace of their friends and strangers alike. Beer lines were at record lengths of time at almost thirty minute waits however, another check mark against the Aragon. It seemed they may have been understaffed on the most important night of their year.
Well in a fine tradition and a proper salute, how could they not come out to open the third set with ‘In the Kitchen’. The song being the one that encompasses all that is Chicago. Winter had certainly wrapped itself around the city, and for all of us, I could say we were fond of the idea being right where we were at the moment. The version even included a Michael Jackson tease of ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something’. Proving the love Umphrey’s has for the King of Pop. It wouldn’t be the first time, or the last that MJ gets a nod from the boys. Turning to look to our friends, and gathering tightly together, we were minutes from the drop.
In a seamless effort, the band moves itself tightly into the countdown, and a very alluring version of ‘Auld Lang Sang’. The New Year was upon us. Note; notice the fine shots Aaron Bradley captured of the ball drop. Once again the band showed their prowess with their cover ability, bringing out a debut of ‘Golden Years’ a David Bowie classic. They played the song with much pride, and included a shout out to the late man himself. Another great we had lost in the devastating year of 2016 right up to the moment the ball dropped.
The third set was a highlight reel all by itself. There was no sense of being tired or any loss of energy. The band was very on top of what they do best. As Mad Dog came out again, the room erupted with a fine and much needed addition of ‘Partyin’ Peeps’. That’s exactly what being at the show was about, and we all knew the way to respond to their call, "it's get down time!". Quickly and without hesitation they played excellently through ‘All in Time’, ‘Day Nurse’, and a beautiful rendition of ‘August’. Musically, the band would salute another fallen icon, this time it was the shocking, surprise passing of George Michael. Ending the first set with a 2,022 show gap of his great song ‘Freedom’. The longest of the night besides ‘Kid Charlemagne’ in the second with a 595 show gap erased.
To put it all into perspective, this three-night run was a majestic run to behold for the die-hard fan, or the people there for their first shows. They played effortlessly through new, old, and an array of well-suited covers to fill the space. ‘Bad Friday’ was the perfect cap to the weekend, and what was going to be a much needed Sunday for rest. I'd like to give a special thanks to Umphrey’s Mcgee, Grateful Music, Aaron Bradley, and many others, I was able to say I fully enjoyed the opportunity to sit-in on these shows. Here's to onward and upward in 2017.
 debut, original; with Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret horns  with Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret horns  debut, Sturgill Simpson; with Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret horns  with Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' (Michael Jackson) jam; with Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret horns  debut, David Bowie; with Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret horns  with Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret horns and Steve "Britches" Britz on percussion with Andy
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