Now I finally know what all the buzz is about. I caught Umphrey's McGee for the first time last night at the Middle East in Cambridge, and they kicked ass. This was only their second time playing Boston, I believe, and they really packed it in. It just goes to show what's happening within the live music scene and how much the internet and JamBase can really help bands. Also, I think that their set at Bonnaroo certainly did a lot for them and helped to spread the word, as it did for Particle. The word is out on Umphrey's and there is a reason for that. They delivered a high-octane show complete with a light show and fog machines.

I wasn't sure quite what to expect upon walking down the stairs into the Middle East, certainly not all the heads I saw packed into that tiny room, reminiscent of the Wetlands. I walked in mid-song after missing only five minutes and quickly realized that these guys were one of the heavier "jambands" out there. I spent the first few minutes trying to figure out which guitarist was Jake Cinninger, who I have been reading a lot about recently. It was tough to decide at first, as each guitarist took turns at letting out some tight solos. I made my guess and later found out I was right when the keyboardist asked one of the guitarists a question and used his name, which was Brendan.

The first few songs were pretty heavy and very guitar-driven. Although they had a percussionist, you could barely hear him over all the other players. I wouldn't mind checking out an all acoustic show. I don't usually see bands as heavy as this and it was nice to rock out to for a change. They finally took a break between songs and launched into this really cool, ambient, almost electronic kind of tune. I wish I knew the name, if anyone was there and knows what I'm talking about please email me. They turned the lights down all the way and really got the light show going and started spewing out fog over the stage and audience, which added to the ambience of the song. This tune immediately got the crowd moving. Everyone got into it and started dancing and moving around. I worked my way up to the front to get a better view.

At some point the jam started to wind down and I heard what I thought was some familiar playing coming from the keyboards. What is this, I thought. Could this be... no it couldn't be. Then to answer my questions, Jake moved to the mic and started whistling. Yes, it is.... "The Stranger," by Billy Joel. I couldn't believe it. I mean it isn't that obscure a song, but you really don't hear too many Billy Joel covers these days, especially by a young, hip, up-and-coming, band like Umphrey's. They played a rocking version that the crowd really seemed to enjoy. Good choice for a cover and perfectly timed to keep the crowd attentive.

We got some more power jams and beautiful guitar work and the show came to an end. A great first time performance for me and the crowd was buzzing. I was definitely surprised at the size of the crowd, it being a Wednesday night and Umphrey's being a relatively new band. I know they'll be back soon, I wonder where they will play next. If you haven't seen them go check them out, and their new album is really catchy too.

Sam Katz
JamBase | Boston

[Published on: 8/26/02]

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