By Joshua Colky
Photography by Kristine Condon
This past Thursday, Umphrey’s McGee hosted their 23rd Boulder show, drawing a huge crowd to the famed hippie mecca in the Colorado foothills. While the venue and seasonal hosts have varied, a precedent has been established that Red Rocks runs will include a Boulder date (save for 2010). The Boulder Theater, with so many previous classic performances and high caliber guest appearances, has become an obvious favorite for the fanbase. Tickets sold out instantly. Fans networked anxiously amongst their friends hoping for a spare extra. People offered their souls and first-born in online regional groups for the opportunity to ride the rail. The months of anticipation culminated into a large line along the façade of the venue, vibrancy palpable in the surrounding atmosphere as old and new friends embraced and engaged in animated obsession before the unopened doors. Once inside, Umphreaks sampled Nothing too Fancy Pale Ale awaiting the sextet’s entrance. The venue was surprisingly uncrowded in comparison to previous years making for an extremely enjoyable rageface environment with lots of room to dance no matter where you went.
Goonville, Umphrey’s weirdo freakchild of an intro tune stumbled onto the stage as the band emerged. Unique in its build, the tune goes from sounding delightfully discombobulated to a militaristic plodding unlike any of the other intro tunes. The sound quickly pivoted into rock-untz epic Wappy Sprayberry, which included a dance jam that was bass heavy and stripped down, where echoey drip-drop guitars and fat puddle bass drove a focused build back into the energetic song. Cemetery Walk 1 would follow, Bayliss’ voice sounding pristine as Jake tore into the first solo at the beginning of the tune but took the second one, near the end, a bit sloppier. Giving a shout out to manager extraordinaire Kevin Browning (who just had a son), the band dove into Piranhas, a lyric-heavy tune which debuted this past New Year. The song continues to improve but has yet to find its niche, piling through with little variation of sound or style throughout. The potential is obvious – the lyrics are amazing and the verse itself has a nice groove – but the song sticks to that groove until completion with not enough interesting divergence from the standard path.
1348 featured a dark dirty jam which played on the song’s standard elements before plunging into an organy heavy groove. Spiral staircase guitar licks eventually enveloped around the bass and keys, leading to the meat of the jam. Example 1 was loose in the best sort of way, bluesy guitar solos encapsulated by the gorgeous riddle lyrics. In The Black brought back the dark motif that ran through the set. A new song which Umphrey’s debuted at UMBowl, In The Black is a multiple-personality disorder jam, segments of the song sounding almost unrelated that somehow collapse into place. It is an intriguing and sounds reminiscent of Educated Guess got tipsy, where its intricate run along lyrics in the “if all you need is a little help…if not for me maybe someone else..” section.
A standard but beautiful Morning Song followed, leading towards set closer Cemetery Walk 2. The dance party tune leads to a mellow space groove in the middle where you can hear Andy Farag’s lightning fast percussion behind the deep submarine bass. Jake flicker fingers the final solos which crescendo in energy before the semi-dark set ends.
The second set seemed it would continue this heavy path by opening with Mantis. Left unfinished, the obvious sandwich seemed appropriately placed but the band did not dwell long enough to establish a jam, quickly transitioning into an upbeat and energetic Jajunk. One of the most focused, patient and thoughtful jams of the night, a fast bass joined aerial trapeze guitar flurries, Joel bringing a subtle happy sound to the keys that blended perfectly as the guitars ramp into overdrive. An engaging Women Wine and Song followed with pristine execution, earning praise for the extended rockytonk jam that trailed the final verse.
Educated Guess, the first Similar Skin song of the night, was flawless in the standard verse into chorus content. The song itself was impressively performed, the harmonies perfectly layered and the energy levels riding very high. The encapsulated jam shed some of that energy and became lost along the way. While the intentional looseness was taken maybe a step too far, the transition back into the last part of Educated Guess was fantastic. From here a masterful Blue Echo unfolds, the jam built of concentrated needlepoint guitar work that escalates to a distorted lumbering apex where the drummers craft thunder before trailing into a Myer’s led Voodoo Lady. Umphrey’s really owns the track by extending and fleshing it out a bit and Kris’ voice is well suited for the song.
The final two songs in the set, Wife Soup and Hindsight are bothl placed and wonderfully performed even without any improvisation or extended jamming. Hindsight’s fifth performance to date is great. Jake concentrates the inner rage the conjure the vocal demons required for this song and does so marvelously. An encore of the always fun finger fancy Fussy Dutchman, where guitars and pianos collide for a fireworks show in their own right, leads into the second half of Mantis, closing out the night.
There is no doubt that both the song selection and high quality jams made this an exemplary Boulder performance. The musical Mantis and heavy motif that ran through the jams in both sets was well broken up by the occasional dance heavy tune. Umphreaks left the Boulder Bubble with their appetites whetted for the day to come.