Words by: Mark Miller | Images by: Susan J. Weiand
Umphrey's McGee :: 02.15.08 – 02.17.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
President's Day weekend 2008 marked Umphrey's McGee's first three-night stand in San Francisco since their memorable May 2005 run at the Great American Music Hall. The Fillmore run concluded a short but highly successful West Coast tour by the Chicago sextet, one that garnered rave reviews from Vancouver to San Diego.
The Om Trio reunited for a special three-night engagement of their own for the first time in nearly three years as requested by UM. The OM Trio is keyboardist Brian Felix, bassist Pete Novembre and drummer Ilya Stemkovsky.
Umphrey's began the festivities with "Bridgeless," where '80s arena rock meets Zeppelin-worthy monster riffs and smooth conga fills by percussionist Andy Farag. The band manifested the song title allegorically, leaving "Bridgeless" adrift, segueing into "Much Obliged," bassist Ryan Stasik and guitarist-vocalist Brendan Bayliss' sly tale of expecting too much out of life. Perhaps Bayliss was telling fans to chill on the expectations for this weekend. "Obliged" yielded tough metal shredding from the sinister Jake Cinninger on guitar. The morphing continued as "Dump City" was summoned next with the jamming dominated by extended, drawn out notes.
"Partyin' Peeps" was much improved over 2006's debacle that featured an out-of-place Keller Williams on vocals (and shoddy dance moves). First set later came to a cohesive conclusion when the band completed "Bridgeless." The second set opened with "Miss Tinkle's Overture," Umphrey's magnificent mishmash of classical strains and driving prog-rock. "2nd Self" saw some Allman Brothers-like harmony playing from the Cinninger-Bayliss duet.
"Der Bluten Kat," or "DBK" as it's affectionately known, finally arrived, left out of UM's five previous Fillmore shows. Bayliss dedicated the song to fans that "don't get out much." This "DBK" jam sported a funky feel until it diffused into "Gulf Stream," a contemplative melodic debut, fragments of which had been previously played in late 2007. "Gulf" demonstrated the considerable improvement in Cinninger's vocals. The band used the tranquility to stretch the jam out before returning to the conclusion of "DBK," and while it won't be ranked among the all-time great versions, it topped the March 7, 2005 "Kat."
While "Syncopated Strangers" was a worthy follow-up, the joyful reggae of "Utopian Fir" seemed a bit too subdued to close out the second set, but it made more sense during the encore of Rage Against The Machine's "Bombtrack," a first-time cover featuring OM Trio's Stemkovsky on snarling vocals and Felix on keys.
02.15.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, California
Set I: Bridgeless > Much Obliged > Dump City, Partyin' Peeps, The Fussy Dutchman, Sociable Jimmy > Bridgeless
Set II: Miss Tinkle's Overture, 2nd Self > Der Bluten Kat > Gulf Stream* > Der Bluten Kat, Syncopated Strangers, Utopian Fir
Notes: OM Trio opened
* new original; similar to 11.10.07 Blue Echo and 12.31.07 Plunger
** first time played, Rage Against the Machine; with Ilya Stemkovsky on vocals and Brian Felix on keys (both of OM Trio)
The middle child of the stand saw Cinninger come out to jam with OM Trio for the final number of their opening set, where he matched wits with Felix. The Umph set got off to a spectacular start with the cool '70s flow of "Pay the Snucka (Parts 1 & 2)," with lyrics that sport sarcastic references to each of the six band members. The lighting by Adam Budney was perfect, with the spotlight hitting each member as he received his lyrical "tribute."
Jake Cinninger :: 02.16
"Rocker Part II" featured Bayliss/Cummins harmonies and a chugging jam from Stasik and drummer Kris Myers. Next up was "Got Your Milk (Right Here)," a song that makes some veteran Umphreaks lactose intolerant. However, "Milk" is undeniable fun with its solid riffage and Bayliss' soaring vocal lines. Cummins dropped synth bombs during the "Mail Package" > "Walletsworth" > "Mail Package" sequence, and "Walletsworth" featured a slow building, delayed intro to its energetic opening chords that made it much more arresting than usual.
"It smells good in here," said Bayliss, later noting that the whole Fillmore atmosphere made it feel like they were "playing in their basement." The true highlight of this set was saved for the closing number, "The Triple Wide," Umphrey's successful stab at the trance-fusion style pioneered by their brothers in sonic chicanery, The Disco Biscuits. This particular "Triple Wide" lived up to its name, getting quite expansive, with the band and guest bassist David Murphy of STS9 effortlessly taking the jam through many spaces and places with an ease and confidence that recalled Phish in their heyday. Budney's rainbow array of lighting perfectly matched the colors generated by the music.
"Hurt Bird Bath" proved to be a wise choice to kick off the second set, and this rendition was aided by spontaneous audience participation that filled the silent void during the fierce stop/start section. The more casual fans shook their asses to Derek and the Dominoes' "Layla," which featured Mike Flynn on the keys and was dedicated to the people of the Midwest. Then it was back to the mind-blowing prog people paid good money for as "Mulches Odyssey" wrapped around new tune "Wappy Sprayberry," an ebullient Bayliss number with a lot of potential. This could be Umph's "Scarlet Begonias." "Hangover" featured Cecil "Peanut" Daniels on midi sax.
Cinninger's introduction to the encore summed up this whole tour: "Whatever happens, happens." Umphrey's debuted their cover of Smashing Pumpkins' ""Rhinoceros," a cut done ten years earlier by Phish, but this seemed more apropos with one Chicago band covering another. "Snucka" returned from the show opener to collect the rest of his payment with the furious mini-opus "Part 3." The band had indeed upped the ante with this evening's performance, which was the best show of the weekend.
02.16.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, California
Set I: Pay the Snucka$ > Rocker (part II) > Got Your Milk (Right Here), Mail Package > Walletsworth > Mail Package, The Triple Wide^
Set II: Hurt Bird Bath, Layla^^, Mulche's Odyssey > Wappy Sprayberry > Mulche's Odyssey, Hangover*, Higgins
Encore: Rhinoceros** > Pay the Snucka
Notes: OM Trio opened
$ with Machine Gun jam
^ with Dave Murphy (Sound Tribe Sector 9) replacing Ryan on bass
^^ with Mike Flynn on keys
* with Cecil "P-Nut" Daniels on midi-saxophone; with So What? jam
** first time played, Smashing Pumpkins
Sunday was the last show of the stand and the tour, and for the third night in a row, Umphrey's launched with an epic, this time choosing the multilayered "Jajunk," though this version didn't approach the February 13 monster in Los Angeles that featured a full-on band switch with Brooklyn instrumentalists Dub Trio.
Brendan Bayliss :: 02.17
"Thin Air" featured dueling hammer-on leads from Bayliss and Cinninger, and "FF" featured interplay between Cinninger and Cummins that was at times jazzy, at others more sustained and trippy, before unfurling into full-on psychedelia. "Slacker," Bayliss' ode to living life on one's own terms, featured a throbbing solo by Stasik and nice tribal percussion from Farag.
Bayliss then announced the set closer with the mocking tone of a clichéd radio DJ, saying, "You want less talk and more rock?" When the crowd roared confirmation, Umph rolled out "Wizard Burial Ground," their delightfully dark gothic metal instrumental. Close your eyes and it's as if you've returned to the head banging '80s.
Second set got serious with the "Bottom Half" with Bayliss' sad, deeply felt lyrics that led to an ironically optimistic jam that segued perfectly into "Nothing Too Fancy," a number that never fails to get the feet shuffling. Particle's keyboardist Steve Molitz joined Cummins and the pair conjured up an assortment of '70s funk and synth stylings. "40's Theme" popped open next. Cinninger's dirty-funk tribute to the liquor store had Tea Leaf Green's Josh Clark replace Bayliss for some rich dueling before Cinninger unleashed a transcendent solo that could serve as the soundtrack to heaven - hardly what one would expect from a song that started out as a nod to cheap beer but that's Umphrey's McGee for ya.
It was the "Out of Order" > "N2F" finale that really put a capper on the evening, and indeed the entire weekend. The jam linking the two songs was a shimmering disco rave-up that further underscored Cummins' role in this show's success. It was as if the band suddenly realized this was the last big jam of the tour and answered the call appropriately. The encore brought one final debut cover, namely Ween's "It's Going to be a Long Night." Upon viewing the setlist, some irate Phish fans cried foul that Umphrey's is aping Phish's unique choice of covering Ween's "Roses are Free" back in '97. Some Ween fans were equally outraged but the band ripped through the Motorhead-like, up-tempo, sarcastic ditty without looking back.
02.17.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, California
|Cinninger & Stasik :: 02.17 :: The Fillmore|
Set I: JaJunk, Thin Air > FF > Slacker, Wizard Burial Ground
Set II: Intentions Clear^, The Bottom Half > Nothing Too Fancy^^ > Children's Story$ > The Bottom Half, 40's Theme$$, #End of the Road > Out of Order > Nothing Too Fancy
Encore: It's Gonna Be a Long Night*^
Notes: ^ with Mitch Marcus on saxophone
^^ with Steve Molitz on keys
$ first time played, Slick Rick; with Steve Molitz on keys and rap
$$ with Josh Clark (Tea Leaf Green) replacing Brendan on guitar
# with Some Children See Him (Hutson & Burt) introduction
* first time played, Ween
OM Trio played a special late night after party at the Boom Boom Room across the street from The Fillmore. Kris Myers and Joel Cummins sat in on drums and keyboards, respectively, for a good half hour romp. While it was disappointing that Cinninger and/or Bayliss didn't join the jam, it was a privilege to witness an accomplished drummer like Myers up close. Soon after, the ten sets of combined music from OM Trio and Umphrey's McGee came to an end.
Cummings w/ Om Trio :: 02.17
While this run might not have captured the spontaneity of the 2005 Great American three-night stand or two nights in Petaluma in April 2006, musically it has to be regarded as the most impressive with Umphrey's possibly on the verge of entering a new peak phase.
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