Leftover Salmon | with Umphrey’s McGee
The Fillmore | Denver, CO | 10.31.02
The scariest part about Halloween in Denver was that the showtime for Leftover
Salmon and Umphrey’s McGee was accurate. At the stroke of seven, the house lights
faded and a familiar song flooded The
Fillmore. After a couple seconds, I recognized it as the theme song from The
Sopranos. Umphrey’s McGee then filed onstage, with each member dressed as
a different character from the show.
I had seen Umphrey's McGee
a couple summers back at a small bar in Omaha, with a crowd of about 15 or 20.
I thought of them as a band with virtually unlimited potential that was just
being realized. As music majors, they were much stronger in composing songs
with different jams segments than most other so-called “jambands.” Their repertoire
includes dozens of original songs, peppered with an eclectic assortment of cover
songs by Paul Simon, Lionel Richie, Bob Marley, Motley Crue, Steely Dan, Warren
G, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin, to name a few. I was shocked
to find how much the band had changed since I had first seen them. While their
enthusiasm remained commendable, it was tempered with a new-found confidence
that was promulgated by an aggressive touring schedule. Lost was the quirkiness
and playfulness that had come to characterize the band: indeed, the group was
much edgier and darker in their performance than many had come to expect.
One remarkable aspect of Umphrey’s is their ability to jam as a cohesive unit.
While oftentimes bands will attempt to have several members lay a foundation for
an individual to solo, UM was able to take a jam in interesting directions by
each member making small, yet significant contributions to its development. The
results were more thick, jaded grooves featuring descending notes on keys by Joel
Cummins and searing guitar riffs provided by Jake Cinniger. The band is as hot
as it has ever been, and performances such as this lend credence to the notion
that Umphrey’s McGee may be the best kept secret in music today.
Who's the little man?
This past March, music lovers everywhere lost one of the most beloved artists
in Mark Vann. From that point, there was much speculation as to who, if anyone,
could fill Vann’s role in Leftover
Salmon. Many names were mentioned, but the band ultimately chose Noam
Pikelny to fill the void. At the age of 21, Pikelny still has a year left until
he graduates from the University of Illinois. With primary influences including
Earl Scruggs and Bela Fleck, this music major gelled nicely with the band and
wasn’t shy about displaying his prowess on the banjo during his first show as
an official member of the band.
most-often made comment in the Fillmore that evening was “That banjo player
is (insert expletive) (insert complimentary adjective)!” Pikelny proved that
without a doubt he is able to be an immediate impact player for Leftover Salmon,
and left many that had questioned his addition completely stunned. Leftover
Salmon sounded as tight and experienced as bands ought to after a decade of
playing together. True to their roots, Leftover served up plenty of the best
bluegrass around, with stunning solos provided at points by each member. Traversing
through genres with ease, Pikelny and Leftover Salmon also dabbled in salsa,
funk and rock - often in the same song.
One final highlight of the evening showcased Joel Cummins and Jake Cinniger
from Umphrey’s McGee joining Leftover Salmon for a rousing rendition of “Big
River.” Both bands were hitting on all cylinders and appeared to be in top form,
as evidenced by the diversity of personal highlights for many in the audience.
The hometown heroes of Leftover Salmon once again delivered the goods, and the
cutting-edge sounds of Umphrey’s McGee left everyone with a smile on their face
as they braved the blizzard-like conditions that awaited them.
JamBase | Boulder
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Photos by Tony Stack | Rock Steady Studios