Words & Images by Trevor Pour

Umphrey's McGee :: 02.16.06 :: Higher Ground :: Burlington, VT

Jake Cinninger :: Umphrey's McGee :: 02.16

Expectations are high these days for Umphrey's McGee. After their critically lauded performance at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on New Year's Eve, Umphrey's has been riding a wave of anticipation which has cemented them in the precarious yet advantageous position of carrying one of the main torches of the jam-rock culture. Their reputation precedes their performances, delivering the dual-edged sword of consistently sold-out performances and a sharply critical audience, but NYE wasn't the kick-off for these expectations. Not only have their festival appearances and strong tours won over thousands of "Umphreaks," but a little while back they were dubbed the successors to Phish by Rolling Stone magazine. Despite the inaccuracy and overgeneralization apparent in such a statement, pressure like that could be pretty tough for a lot of groups. The great thing about these guys is – they just don't seem to care.

Ryan Stasik :: Umphrey's McGee :: 02.16

I bore witness to this phenomenon at Higher Ground as Umphrey's McGee played to an intimately small sold-out house of around 650. They forwent an opening band and simply chose to play two sets, resulting in three hours of Umph in one night. The boys started out with a fast and heavy "Believe the Lie," making it quickly clear that their penchant for hard rock wouldn't be ignored on this night. Kris Meyers (drums) and Jake Cinninger (guitar) broke away from the other four with their speed and precision and took the audience along to a blistering apogee, stepping into the night on the right foot.

Melodic pieces "13 Days" and "In the Kitchen" followed, leading up to a brand new lyrical gem, "Morning Song," which expanded the previous horizons of Umphrey's slower side. In the spirit of "Bullhead City" or "Walletsworth," this piece showed a great deal of songwriting maturity, both in vocal ability and melody. Brendan Bayliss is a noticeably stronger vocalist now compared to a few years back, and for a first live performance, this was an impressive production. Fans will be seeing more of this selection in the future.

Stasik (UM) & Ruth Heindel :: Vermont Youth Orchestra :: 02.16

Next up, the audience was treated to another first: a quartet from the Vermont Youth Orchestra. Violinists Estlin Usher, Jacob Gevalt, and Ariel Marcy and cellist Ruth Heindel joined UM for "Great American." This instrumental experiment was perhaps more of a treat for everyone on stage than for the crowd. No one could hide the grins coming from the VYO crew or from Umphrey's. Despite what must have been an intimidating experience, Estlin, Jacob, Ariel, and Ruth held their own with some of the most popular musicians of our day. One would hope after seeing this performance that Umphrey's will seek similar collaborations in the future, even on an album track. For a band that already plays heavy metal, jazz, modern rock, electronic, and blues, classical-fusion would be a strong addition to their repertoire.

"Nemo" and an extended "JaJunk" finished off a strong first set with Andy Farag (percussion), Ryan Stasik (bass), and Joel Cummins (keys) picking up the tempo considerably and Meyers once again showing his indomitable skill on the kit.

Grippo & Bayliss :: Umphrey's McGee :: 02.16

The second set kicked off its own share of surprises. A monstrous 35-minute "Der Bluten Kat" jam was accompanied by none other than Dave "The Truth" Grippo, a Burlington saxophone legend whose guest appearances at Higher Ground are too numerous to list. Grippo took no more than ten seconds to get his bearings on stage before diving headfirst into what can only be defined as pure unadulterated rock. Meyers and Farag played off each other to build a colorful percussive backdrop while Bayliss and Grippo exchanged playful riffs and built to the long and intense climax of the evening, leaving the crowd breathless and providing us with that moment we're all familiar with - when, without realizing what we're doing or having any conscious impulses, we slowly stop bumping and nodding and tapping our feet, and find ourselves just watching, listening, and grinning from ear to ear. That moment of this is why I'm here.

Cinninger & Hartswick :: Umphrey's McGee :: 02.16

Bringing the crowd back to earth from the Grippo jam, Umph slowed things down with the sixth guest of the evening, Jennifer Hartswick. Hartswick, another Burlington favorite (and a fellow member of Trey Anastasio's original horn section with Grippo), performed the first live "Bullhead City" since August 2004. Her soulful voice and soft lyrics were no disappointment and proved the versatility of the Umphrey's McGee sound. Hartswick hooked the crowd in a moment, which is no small triumph following the high-energy Grippo.

Cinninger & Stasik :: Umphrey's McGee :: 02.16

Following "Bullhead," Umph turned the volume back up with the King Crimson cover "Red," then "Partyin' Peeps," "Push the Pig," and "All in Time." The end of the show dragged a bit with some moments of uninspired jamming, and the calm reflected in the crowd. Umph never lost their energy, but there was definitely a disconnect somewhere between the stage and the floor. They had a strong first set and kicked off the second set with an excess of energy and volume, but their last three songs left the audience noticeably low. After such a killer guest list and strong playing, the last few pieces just didn't fit as well. The last couple songs of the night, just like the last few pages of a book or the last line of an article, tend to stick with the listener just a bit more. So after a relatively modest call for an encore, Umph (apparently aware of their lull in the second set) decided to leave us with a reminder of how good the show really was. The trance-jam hit "Robot World" > "Norwegian Wood" finished things off in true form with some smooth Benevento/Russo Duo-styled counterpoint between Meyers and Cummins.

Expectations? Met and exceeded.

Umphrey's attitude so far has shown them to be almost oddly comfortable with their success, and this show was no exception. They act like they're still college kids playing at the local bar, with a larger-than-expected crowd driving them to play with a little extra heart. Thank goodness we've got bands like Umphrey's McGee. They're having fun, they're working hard to entertain, and they aren't afraid to experiment with their sound. This is what the progressive music community wants to see, and perhaps more importantly, needs in order to survive.

I: Believe the Lie, 13 Days, In the Kitchen, Morning Song, Great American, Nemo, JaJunk
II: Der Bluten Kat > Bullhead City, Red, Partyin' Peeps, Push the Pig, All In Time
Encore: Robot World > Norwegian Wood

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[Published on: 3/1/06]

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RothburyWithCheese star Wed 3/1/2006 04:07PM
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Is anyone tired of these guys as much as I am? I saw then in Flagstaff, Az in 2003 and they were shit! To me they sounded like a Primus ripoff. They are one of the most overrated bands on the scene right now along with My Morning Jacket, Ween, Widespread Panic, and STS9.

beadiamondsomday starstarstarstarstar Wed 3/1/2006 04:52PM
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i bet this show was smokin, might actually head over to archive right now and find out. i got the pleasure of seeing the 2-21 show in NC and to any one who remotely likes these guys or has heard the word, screw their albums, GO SEE THEM, the are on fire right now and hove matured soooo much in the last year, they arent my absolut favorite yet but they are the "best live show" you will see right now, so do your self a favor and check them out

pat5507 starstarstarstarstar Wed 3/1/2006 05:18PM
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Umphrey's is turnin it up and i can't wait to see them at Langerado.

gonephishy2bcf Wed 3/1/2006 06:52PM
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Grippo looks like a black guy!!! Great show i heard.

phhil starstarstarstarstar Wed 3/1/2006 07:46PM
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man! these guys !!

phhil starstarstarstarstar Wed 3/1/2006 08:20PM
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dave the truth,phish halloween '95, jesus left chicago, holy shit, probably the best yem i've ever heard

madaeb1 starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/2/2006 08:55AM
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Great Article. Missed the show. Only wished I could have been there. Rock-n-Roll - isn't that what it's all about?


The Glick Thu 3/2/2006 01:57PM
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The Glick

kellerhead you should bring your hate over to UM rocks!

pheelalrights starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/2/2006 02:16PM
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kellerhead...let me guess, not enough blue in your grass? never seen UM before, but I was told that it's like Antelope for the whole show. This article cements my trip to San Diego HoB.

McL starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/2/2006 03:11PM
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The Grippo sit in was AMAZING. You could see him just loving it, and the interplay between him and the band, taking turns following eachother around, and at one point dropping on a dime into a short Cissy Strut jam out of nowhere. HOTHOTHOTHOTHOTHOT

Morning Song is fantastic. The song is 2 weeks old, and it's already making an impact.

kellerhead get used to hearing more and more people talking about UM. And you're so tired of a band you saw once in 2003 and then tossed aside as a Primus ripoff?!?!?!?!?!? Do you know what Primus sounds like? Overrated like MMJ and Ween? LAUGHABLE

take the hate elsewhere, cause no one's buying what you're selling.

TNPanic Thu 3/2/2006 03:12PM
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Caught the Nashville show and it was great. One of the best parts at an Umph show is seeing people try to dance to their ever changing drum patterns- its halarious. One of the top 5 live acts to see right now-IMO.

fattsjulius starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/2/2006 04:46PM
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one word... RED... you must have a set of huge ones to cover the CRIMSON KING!!!

earlgonefishn starstarstarstar Thu 3/2/2006 08:51PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up! word for ya...No. Get yer one-man-band fix on so he'll leave Umph alone next NYE. Puh-leez...

TBMLEE starstarstarstar Fri 3/3/2006 07:37PM
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Sick show! Grippo blew the roof off the building. these guys have killed it every single time I've seen them!

Thanks to everyone who donated money and cans, the food drive was a huge success.

dannymo starstarstarstarstar Sat 3/4/2006 08:34PM
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you know what I'm really tired of Kellerhead?? YOU and any "haters".Why do all these sick musicians want to jam with UM? Because they are great guys who are sick musicians and to say they sound like Primus shows how little you know about both bands and music in general.

bBlack starstarstarstarstar Sun 3/5/2006 08:52AM
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The best live show IMO. Umphreys are entertainers in every aspect of a show. You gotta to love their interaction on stage. Musically they have no weaknesses. kellerhead, just because you thought they played a shitty show in 2003, they might have, that is no reason to write them off now in 2006. Thats the beauty of a young band, they just get better and better. The hype these guys are receiving is well deserved.

phishead818 starstarstarstarstar Sun 3/5/2006 11:52AM
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Panic, Umph and STS9 overrated. But Keller not? Please... he's a fun dance party, but after a few shows of his, they are all pretty much the same. Same tricks, same loops. Have you seen STS9? Along with UM those are 2 of the best acts around right now with precise timings and impecable musicianship. I suggest them both.

MutantesLips starstarstar Sun 3/5/2006 09:03PM
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Yo, I agree with kellerhead, that Umphrey's Mcgee kinda blows. They are just not good.

Ween, however, is superb.

pellis starstarstarstar Mon 3/6/2006 10:49AM
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Kellerhead, no comment on UMPH but WSP overatted - been seeing them since 91 and they have had up and downs just like everyone but cuaght them in Savannah 2005 - UNREAL! they are sick, WSP pounds UMPH like a peice veal for the time being - I like Umph though as they are working hard and very talented. WSP overatted though - you are outta of your tree or hit many limbs on the fall down.

Lucid_Interval Thu 3/9/2006 09:04AM
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I have a bunch of Umphrey's shows and have seen them a handfull of times over the past 2 years. First off, they are absolutely amazing. Sometimes i feel like i should be more familiar of their material but everytime i start to get back into them a bit i drift back out. I had to smile when i read the "not enough blue in your grass" comment. If i had a dollar for everytime i overheard a Cheese or Yonder head bashing on UM like they're not even talented... I for one am not into the edgier thing, but when UM busts it out they make it fun and they're always keeping you on the tip of your toes in anticipation of the next transition. Saying that Umphrey's is "not good" or is "shit" is completely ludacris. If they're not your thing, fine. Im not an Umphreak but i'll see them again.

nobisco Thu 3/9/2006 09:57PM
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Its funny to listen to you guys argue about these bands. They are all mediocre. If you like to go hang out with a bunch of other people who like to do drugs and have a good time then the "jam band" scene is where its at. If your lookin to really research improvisational music, try a local jazz club where there arent 20,000 people, all trying to look like more of a hippy than the other.There are so many "real" struggling musicians that smoke any of these jokers. Every band in this argument has way too much momentum for the amount of talent. Stop with the I know more than you do stuff and start trying to spread something new. The so called "jam band" scene has deteriorated in the last 10 years and its because nobody wants to try anything new. The jam scene is a joke and its too bad, it used to be something. Now its just a bunch of silly arguments about Widespread. Who cares? And by the way, I didnt drive the 20 minutes to go see this show. Who cares? kellerhead...what a laugh. That guy's the worst.

Lynchmob starstarstar Fri 3/10/2006 10:22AM
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as an experienced UM listener, I can vouch that these guys have been on an intense upward slope for a number of years, and any comparisons to 2003 are way off base.
that said, I doubt higher ground is really the best venue to see the band in these days. they aren't really a club band anymore-- the sound is too big, and this type of room too crowded when oversold (as this show was) for the fans (though obviously not the band) to really get down and groove.
(it's funny you guys compare them to WSP-- when I saw WSP in Boston last year (err..2004) at BU, the arena seemed way too big and their sound just got lost inside it, and I left feeling pretty disappointed. but maybe I should just spring for better seats and that wouldn't happen.)
anyway, what was really strange to me about the HG show was seeing people outside trying to get 'miracled' into the Umph show. that wasn't happening in 2003...then again, back then haters also didn't feel the need to go on message boards to tell people how mediocre the band was when they didn't even go to the show. I, for one, am glad you stayed home, nobisco.

fightclubche Sun 3/12/2006 04:27PM
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Umphrey's Mcgee are taking over the world. I've had my face melted by them many times.