Leftover Salmon | with Umphrey’s McGee
The Fillmore | Denver, CO | 10.31.02

Vince covers up
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.

The 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.

Nathan Rodriguez
JamBase | Boulder
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Photos by Tony Stack | Rock Steady Studios

[Published on: 11/12/02]

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