On Monday night Umphrey's McGee capped off a breakout year with a 3 set shebang at The Vic Theatre in Chicago. The Vic, capacity 1400, was packed to the gills with Umphreaks from across the country. I saw kids from Washington, Oregon, Vermont, California not to mention many Midwest representatives! Umphrey's McGee kicked off the sold out show with one of my favorites, “August.” I have been to many UM shows and have never heard a crowd cheer louder during a tune than they did during this one. There was a very tangible vibe coursing through the crowd as the night began with high energy.

This segued into “Utopian Fir,” which started out normally but started to morph into Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher.” Mike Mirro's bass drum sounded like the rumbling motor on a Harley Davidson as they dropped full on into the tune for about 10 seconds before re-entering "Utopian" and continuing on their way. "Utopian" soon gave in to the dark tones of “Andy’s Last Beer,” a tune that weaves in and out of evil riffs and pounding beats through a funk forest. This tune is full of UM flavors eager to be absorbed by the attending freaks.

At this point the boys invited Pat Mallinger from Sabertooth Organ Quartet to play a Taj Mahal tune entitled, “Farther on Down the Road.” A few minutes into the song, guitarist Brendan Bayliss turned to mic over to Alex Meyers, a UM compatriot, so that he could propose marriage to his girlfriend Lissa. There was an incredible feeling of love in the air as they finished the song amidst the congratulatory cheers from the crowd.

David Young of David Young and the New Republic then entered the stage with his trumpet to join the rest of the crew for “Example 1.” By this point I had moved to the balcony, as the lower level was becoming a bit too crowded. This gave me a chance to check out the new light setup implemented by the infamous Adam Budney. His new toys include searing techno beams and super strobes to boot. The sound in the balcony was superb, even better than it was on the floor. All of the instruments were separated perfectly by sound caresser Kevin Browning keeping his usual stoic demeanor while concentrating on the task at hand.

“Ringo,” a Jake Cinninger (guitar) tune from his days in Ali Baba’s Tahini, followed as the horns departed to return later in the performance. Then Brent Hoffman jumped on stage with his turntables to add some hip-hop aromas to “Get in the Van.” The set was closed with a mind-bending “40’s theme,” a composition that goes from Zappa like orchestration to funky soul. Jake has been tearing the ending solo to shreds as of late and made no exception here, pulling off an amazing solo that had the crowd going nuts as they walked off.

Set break was not too long but the lines to the bathroom were. The balcony began to fill up as people retreated from the steamy lower level into the upper atmosphere of the room.

Umphrey’s wasted no time dropping right into “In the Flesh,” the opening song of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. They followed with “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 1,” which featured Brendan Bayliss, guitar, nailing the patented Gilmour solo, as Jake soloed deftly around him.

The jam slowly melted away into “Syncopated Strangers,” a fantastically intricate work that runs the gamut of musical styles. “All Things Ninja” followed with its intense instrumental engine driving the crowd in to utter submission.

Pat and David then re-entered the mix for "the Skunk, the Goose, and the Fly,” a Tower of Power tune. For this song drummer Mike Mirro stepped out from behind the drums to dazzle the crowd with vocal styling and was replaced by Jake Cinninger. The horns stayed for a rocking “Kabump,” which violently segued into “All In Time,” the fan favorite. The horns ducked off for a few minutes but re-appeared for “Machine Gun,” a Commodores cover off of the Boogie Nights Album. Midnight approached and the countdown ensued with confetti cannons firing signifying the end of 2001 and the beginning of ought deuce. "Auld Lang Syne" was rocked out with crazy lights and hugs were flying around like Sparrows in Springtime.

Umphrey’s kicked off the new year with “Nothing 2002 Fancy,” a high speed number which went places I have never seen it go before. A Kinks cover, “Ape Man” lightened up the mood as Jake belted out the gut-busting chorus in raucous style. UM ended the hour and a half set with Roulette, a tribute to their love of gambling.

I missed the 3rd set opener, “Big Heart,” a Lounge Lizards cover, but I could hear that the horns were back on stage from the john. When I returned I joined Shane Shanti in the spotlight box for the classic UM nodule, “2X2.” As Shane and I brought up the rear we could feel the energy in the room peaking and it carried our grooves to new levels. We were snapped back to reality with “The Stranger,” a Billy Joel cover which segued into “Blue Echo,” a dense number with hints of 97 Phish lurking in the notes. This segued back into “The Stranger” for a little post midnight sandwich.

The set closed with “Kabump,” and upbeat instrumental which saw the final return of the horns to the stage. Umph wasn’t done busting out the covers yet, they encored with “Waiting Room,” a Fugazi tune, and “Hurt Bird Bath,” a fairly new UM original. “Wonderful World” played over the PA as the crowd trickled out to the cold Chicago night, still dizzy from multiple sonic blows to the dome.

Special thanks to Amy and Cory C for making nametags, what a great icebreaker that was. Props to Vince, Adam, Kevin and the band for exceeding the expectations of the fans and putting on a spectacular event. Happy 2002! Go Bears!

Andrew Kaplan - Energy Mover
JamBase | Midwest
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[Published on: 1/4/02]

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