For more than 20 years this fist pumping six-piece has specialized in music of drama, twists, and turns. They continue to tour almost non-stop across the country, bringing their rock and funk to the people! Umphrey’s McGee is a heavy metal, progressive rock band from South Bend, Indiana. This summer they stop in Florida for a 3-night run with shows in St. Pete (8/15), Miami Beach (8/16), and St. Augustine (8/17). The Sober Goat (Richie Williams) and I have the pleasure of covering this xxplosive group as they tackle the sunshine state.
So we load the car and set sail for the West coast of Florida and St. Pete. Arriving to downtown St. Pete on yet another warm evening. We head from the garage to the pre-show bar. Before we can even collect our thoughts, we run into old friends walking down the street. This is the to be a constant occurrence this weekend as all of our favorite music fans will travel for this amazing band. A few beers and buds later and we’re inside of Jannus Live where a large stage is wedged in between the city buildings. It has a courtyard and back deck with plenty of multi-layer room for viewers to catch the vibe while still rubbing elbows. The space also has a VIP balcony you can reserve with your large group of friends! Everyone here has acquired their cold beverage and found a good spot (except for behind the tree) to catch the red hot Umphrey’s McGee.
“Remind Me” is the first song they play. It starts off as a slower retrospective tune, only to be replaced by a killer heavy metal thrash sound that will have you seeing red. Their flawless execution and searching red lights have me breathing heavy and clenching my teeth by the time they finish the song. Great, I’ve already broken a sweat and it’s only the beginning of the set. “Walletsworth” is the next selection and Joel Cummins on keys leads the slower tune. His classical piano feels contrasts the thumbing bass and drums. He’s working hard weaving a tangled web of notes, and riffs that suddenly have me stuck.
Getting the crowd back moving again, Umphrey’s plays a rare (133 show gap) “Turn & Run.” Next, “Mulche’s Odyssey” always reminds me of the Nintendo 64 game Starfox with its adventurous soundtrack and fast pace progression. They close the first set with “Cemetery Walk I” and “Cemetery Walk II.” Jake Cinninger on guitar shows off his incredible skills and style charged up in his superhuman robot fingers. They finish playing and the whole band leaves the stage, eager to find air-conditioning, while Cummins gently brings us to set break with long winding outtro.
Intermission doesn’t seem long. Because before I know it the crowd cheers the arrival of the band. We make our way back in front of sound for the second half of night one! This is about the time a beautiful girl gets my attention. We are all hot tonight, but she’s leading the way with short dress and boots to match. Her and I boogie down to the opening song, “Plunger>.” This heavy, sludge serenade is exactly what I’m looking for. Loud and complicated, the song moves back and forth between heavy and soft until they bleed into one another for a combo crescendo. Our dance-a-thon continues during this five song second set with “Slacker,” whose sexy jam-filled center is slow and arousing like a script from a sex pill commercial.
Soaking wet from my sunset couples bath we dry off with what I would consider a premature but poppin’ “Miami Virtue.” A song they always play in Miami, which is tomorrow. Next, the Police’s “Driven to Tears>” is a slower cover released in 1980, but the jam portion is double the speed making up for the somewhat pedestrian cover. They don’t finish the song, instead they conclude the set with the multi-layered “Kimble.” Sweaty people shout and whistle all around me in appreciation of the killer music the band has offered! A “we want the UMPH, gotta have that UMPH” chant breaks out among the pleas for more tasty jams. Umphrey’s McGee returns to the stage for one more installment of music, “All In Time.” A song the band has performed over 500 times and for good reason. They stretch this already lengthy encore into a 19-min prog-rock masterpiece. The bar for this Florida 3 night run has been set really, really high.
The next morning we jump in the car and head to Miami! We have a hotel on South Beach, a 2 min walk from the Jackie Gleason Theater at The Fillmore in Miami Beach. This venue is beautiful. Two balconies, three levels of pit action and a sizable seating area for more formal events. They even have a DJ spinning Lettuce in the lobby before the show as well as during set break! The beverage selection is excellent and the service is on point. Now that we’ve had a look around and gotten something to drink we make our way to the top balcony where we have lots of room to dance and perfectly centered point of view for Lighting Director Jefferson Waful‘s creations (and the last run we’ll see him with Umphrey’s!).
The original timetable for Jefferson Waful’s departure from the road was slated at year’s end, but life has a tendency…
The Boys of South Bend come on stage to the sound of loud cheers and applause as well as an intro track. They play along with the track, improving and soloing on top of it until they are nice and warmed up and drop into the first song of the night: “Crucial Taunt.” Lead guitarist Jake Cinninger is already soloing hard causing fans in the pit to raise their arms up almost instantly! “Looks” is a chunkier song, with heavy rock influences envelopes an even jagged jam center featuring Cinninger, once again dominating the song. It’s like watching a professional basketball player being fed the ball in practice. Over and over again he dazzles with a variety of moves over top of the short coach with a broom for play defense. If “Forks” is a layup, then the next song “Breaker” is a buzzer-beating half-court shot. Playing it only for the seventh time ever, this song ramps up quickly before easing into a very chill jam session. The vibe changes as we make our way back to the structure of the song.
Heavy, short guitar riffs from lead singer Brendan Bayliss are the perfect ally-oop pass for Cinninger to come over top with a tapping tomahawk dunk that takes the song into overtime! “Morning Song” is next, followed by a killer “Mantis.” Not only is the band crushing with near flawless performance, but Waful is also painting both the back wall and brushing the crystals on the chandeliers hanging above us! I love this venue, lots of room and did I mention the air conditioning? So cool! Cinninger lends a hand on keys during the jam portion of “Mantis” as well as kneeling for a moment to hand pump Bayliss’ wah pedal, encouraging him to pick up the intensity! Cinninger whistles and Cummins plays classical keys as they cover Billy Joel’s “Stranger” in the middle of the song, breathing a bunch of life into the older tune. “Mantis” ends with fury and just like that we are crammed outside in the smoking section — laughing and meeting new people while becoming better friends with the Umphreaks and Velociraptors of Florida.
Set two grabs us right away with “Rocktopus.” This big time rock song has lots of space for meticulous picking from Cinninger and futuristic sound effects from Cummins. The song comes to an end with Cummins sending his computer sounds into overdrive. Cinninger isn’t finished by a long shot, peaking again and again in “The Linear” jam session. His efforts to spice things up night after night keeps even their most commonly played songs flavorful. Seemingly only playing huge hits this Florida run, they keep things going with “Jajunk!”, filled with a pickle and bbq sauce smothered, “Push the Pig,” this sandwich is so good! “Night Nurse” is one of my favorite songs. Its thumping bass line and dancey vibe is a great change of pace from the mostly rock sets tonight. Finally they end the performance with a mashup of the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” and their own gentle ballad, “Hajimemashite;” which is commonly used American translation of “nice to meet you” or “let’s be friends” in Japanese. The feels are all the way up right now. Everyone is hugging their friends next to them as we conclude the evening with Umph Love in our hearts. They come back out to play “Triple Wide” for an encore. Another driving dance song ushers us into the hot Miami nightlife. It ends with a “Stairway to Heaven” outro from Cinninger.
We talk on the porch for an hour before changing in our hella-close hotel room. Back on the strip, we meet friends for drinks at a high class pool bar and then have a bite to eat at a near by 24 diner. We are so happy we made the decision to stay close! No driving, no stress!
The next morning we find a spot to eat some Miami Beach Cuban sandwiches before heading North for show number three. It’s only a 6 hour drive … Eventually we arrive at St. Augustine Amphitheater, “The Amp,” for tailgating fun with our buddies. This is easily the best music venue in Florida. They have lots and lots of room to hang out with your friends. Tons of bathrooms and water fountains. You’ll hardly wait for a drink in line here and if you keep your cups, they will buy them back from you at the end of the show!! Gotta love an environmentally conscious venue!! Finally we are early enough to a show to catch the opener. We make our way inside as the Magic City Hippies start the show! Their indie-pop rock has the room moving to their poolside grooves and sun-kissed melodies. They play a few songs from their debut album Modern Animal. They dabble with some rap lyrics over their summertime sound which is really working for them. The lead singer Robby Hunter powers the crowd with his passion and constantly moving hips. They keep us entertained while we wait for the big band looming backstage, Umphrey’s McGee.
“Triangle Tear>” is up first and it is only one of two songs (“Looks”) from the recent It’s Not Us, It’s You combo albums played this weekend. “1348” is a volcano of a rock song, spewing hot lava all over the room in addition to its super funky jam center. Lead singer Brendan Bayliss shouts out to Waful during “1348>” on his last run through Florida while with the band. Still not stopping, they jam their way “In the Kitchen>” on the way to the veteran song “Visions>” which got most of its plays in 2002-04 with a peak of 25 performances in 2003. It’s a slower song with a bit of an 80’s jean jacket soft rock feel, which Cinninger is bedazzling with a ton of harmonics. This gives way to the popular “Mail Package>.” Fans whistle and scream as the band bounces through the greasy funk intro to the first verse. “A big ol’ tub of mayonnaise!!!!” This rowdy sing-along is just what the doctor ordered! The intensity picks up as they move into the tropical “Kabump>” and “Got Your Milk (Right Here)>,” before dropping back into the end of “1348!” Smiling and sweaty, we ‘Got your Applause (Right Here)’!! The set break is fast as fuck today, or at least it feels that way with so many cool people to talk to. There just isn’t enough time to shoot the shit before the baddest band in the land comes back to play one more set of mind melting music.
UM begins set two with “Der Bluten Kat>.” A bangin’ 20 min jam session that just about kills me with its unbreakable dance groves and intoxicating vibes. This is the best song of the night so far, maybe the weekend, but they don’t finish it. Instead they play “Higgins>,” which starts off as a reggae song before we bite into it’s creamy jazz -filled center (with “Milestones” by Miles Davis and “Killer Joe” by Benny Golson teases inside of a “So What” Miles Davis jam). Like every UM song, it has a giant kick ass ending that is only trumped by dropping back into the end of “DBK.” The hits keep coming with fan favorites “Partyin’ Peeps” and “Mullet (Over).”
Another songwich with great mouthfeel is next on the menu. This time an expansive “Puppet String>Much Obliged>Puppet String” is the final course of the evening. Great lyrics, fast rock, tempo change, and funk. When all is said and done this collective of talented musicians stands alone at the top of the jam scene for me. Coming back out to encore they change the pace once again to perfectly and patiently cover Pink Floyd’s iconic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
We hang with some friends in the parking lot for a minute or two but ultimately decide to forgo the after party and music. Instead we hop back in the ol’ car and travel back to Orlando.
Total Miles Driven: 1200
Total Hours in Car: 15
Would I Do It Again? In a fuckin’ heartbeat \mm/ Umph Love baby!
Umphrey’s McGee Live Review by Spencer Storch.
Umphrey’s McGee Live Concert Photos by Richie Williams, The Sober Goat.