By Joshua Colky
Aspen is a strange bird. A luxury resort sitting forty minutes off I-70 near the Western Slope of the Rockies, where the local dispensaries find themselves neighbors to Prada and Dolce and Gabbana. Even Colorado natives who have made it up the pass to Vail repeatedly throughout their lives still experience a small bit of culture shock when they finally make their way to Aspen. While the weather was not perfect for skiing as the snow was turning to slush, the near 70 degree temperatures were perfect for outdoor raging and the streets were immediately infiltrated by day drinking hot tubing Umphreaks.
The Belly Up Aspen venue itself holds historical significance because it has been the venue Umphrey’s has come to on the Western side of CO since it was called The Double Diamond back in 2003 (though to be fair they have played Grand Junction before, semi recently – weird). Some amazing shows have taken place there (3/7/2013, 2/9-10/2011) and musically, this year’s shows were no exception.
Stirring up a packed floor with Flamethrower, a perfectly executed Hourglass brought the power into the first set which never let up. Smell The Mitten, When the World Is Running Down, Higgins make up the heavy hitting jams in the first set, with World and Higgins being particularly memorable. Intentions Clear had a weird funk jam which lacked direction, Bayliss kept looking like he was shaking his head as if maybe trying to hone in on the groove. Regardless, the disjoints in Intentions can be easily overlooked for the Police cover which followed, Joel helping to bring around the climax of the jam which played well off the original motif. Miami Virtue, Blue Echo, Turn and Dub (for the homie Matthew) and Tribute to Spinal Shaft make up the large jams in the second set, the Echo goes from rock to jazzy jam, some meandering around as Joel and Jake interplay snakes around each other in fine fashion, a small build developing perfectly. More could have been done to capitalize on the Go to Hell, and this reviewer would have been happy with one cover over two (preference on the Zepplin), however, song choices aside, this show is very very solid, the Higgins or Blue Echo quite possibly being Hall of Fame material.
Another immaculate day followed and by that evening, Umphreaks converged on the town square for a free Umphrey’s show which drew in a large but not overwhelming crowd. The band thrilled fans with a set of heavy hitters, Bad Friday, Nemo, All In Time being highlights with a rockin’ Power of Soul Hendrix cover as a tasty treat.
Lining up for the second night outside of the Belly Up, you could tell this was going to be a different beast. Because everyone had just been down the street at the block party, the line stretched on around the corner and down the block. When passing by the band’s bus, an old security guard from the venue shoved several individuals in front of us, militantly asking them to “keep away from the bus” when they had simply been in transit. There was no room on the floor to maneuver, it was jammed to the point of fire safety regulation violation, but that did not prevent the boys from bringing the fire. Bright Lights Big City features an insane uptown funk dance party, where paced play meet with Stasik masterfully crafting a jam around the familiar bass line. High quality Much Obliged, White Mans Moccasins and Yoga Pants all are nothing “special” but are excellent in their own right. Mood setters for the Utopian Fir to follow, which never disappoints but, with its almost Daft Punk dance party drums, 80s Superhero Synth from Joel and bass jumpy jam that trends into a dolphinesque bliss, Utopian might be the highlight of the weekend. Wappy Sprayberry has a legacy of quality in the Mile High state, and this set two opener is the other contender for jam of the weekend. Dance party over rock show, this is a leveled, deep Wappy with tons of smooth curves. Umphreaks want to be sick of Puppet Strings, but the jams are just to good. You’ve “seen it 400 times” and you’re sick of it. By the end of this heavenly jam at the end of Puppet, you will once again happily be singing the lyrics “are you prepare for what comes next” and would happily hear it again. Robot World is amazing in its own right and trails its way into a restful, standard but perfectly placed Dear Prudence.
The musicianship being absolutely top notch, we here at Umphreak’s Anonymous will take the unpopular opinion that the Belly Up Aspen, as a venue, is sometimes difficult to manage. If you are with a large crew or are near the front of the venue, the sheer closeness of the band is overwhelming and the floor feels like a giant dance party with all of your friends. If you are a singular person trying to find a sightlight near the back of the venue, your options become limited. Terribly oversold, the ability to maneuver around the tiered flooring, tables and pillars becomes very limited and for a venue of less than four hundred, the sound near bar is piss poor. The security is militant and give you an unfriendly feeling immediately. The drinks are expensive. Tradition is deeply seeded in the Umphrey’s community, and it is near sacrilige to suggest that another venue in town might be worth looking into (we had thought Wheeler Opera House, but it is mostly seated. That said, it could get more Umphreaks into the Aspen experience?) – so we won’t. That being said, if you can get a spot to feel comfortable, or if you are on the floor itself and have found a way to not feel crowded, nothing beats the Belly Up for quality of playing or proximity to the band.
Umphrey’s in Aspen is an experience that is an annual privilige for Colorado, the holdover until Red Rocks, and as always – Umphrey’s does more to increase that thirst than satiate that hunger.
Highlights: Utopian Fir, Wappy Sprayberry, When the World is Running Down, Blue Echo, Puppet Strings, Robot World, Higgins
“We are”: Godboner and Ryan Stasik and the Dukes of Nukem