Umphrey’s McGee has a large and loyal band of almost cultlike bohemian followers who know how to get down. It is no fluke; they have earned this. They have invented their own brand of rock, jazz, and funk tinged jam that is adventurous, honest, and totally inspired.
It can be hard to catch the group outside of a festival appearance, so this 2017 tour is a great chance to get a little more intimate with them. Their St. Augustine Amphitheatre appearance on April 29, supported by Big Something, was classic Umphrey’s. It was an evening of creative improvisation, big smiles, and carefree, get-down good vibes.
Their first set was fairly short, beginning with slower numbers and popular hits off some of their older records. This is what they do. They slowly, knowingly, tease and warm up the crowd. If you have seen the group play before, it is an exercise of patience, as you sway on edge, waiting for the full blast, free-spirited funk to arrive. This first set had a low key, positive feeling, continued from what Big Something established in their kinetic opening set.
The Umphrey’s McGee band members smile and enjoy themselves when they play, even during the most intricate solos. They are a jam band that follows proudly in the vein of the classics like the Dead with their patient, emotive grooves. However as their show progresses, it is Umphrey’s own unique brand of heavy funk that sets them apart and makes for unmatched fun.
After a small glass of red wine and a long break, Umphrey’s returned for their all important second set. The sun had just started to go down. It was one of those Florida nights between spring and summer that is warm with a late sunset and a pricelessness that makes for a magic concert experience. This night was not focused on covers and mashups, even though that is the focus of their latest release, ‘Zonkey.’
Umphrey’s McGee has an intense repertoire – twenty years of music composed together, arrangements of popular songs from all genres, and of course their delicious signature jams, where one idea can be expanded into minutes and minutes of improv. They play a progressive blend of jazz, rock, metal, reggae, and straight funk. You can hear the amount of practice and the multitude of influences put into their craft. At the same time, you can hear the spontaneity of compositions that start as improvised riffs and bloom into elaborate new tracks onstage.
The night got funky as all hell, with quirky breakdowns on every instrument and awe-inspiringly difficult guitar solos, played casually. The light show was full of kaleidoscope colors, beams and clouds of contrasting pigments – electric psychedelia. It is rare to see a crowd of people at any show in any genre who dance with the free spirited enjoyment of the crowd at this show. Grey haired PDA obsessed couples, kindergarten-aged kids on long haired parents’ shoulders, and beer drinking twenty something year olds joined, all smiling and all dancing.
This was a show that met and exceeded every expectation anyone in the audience had. Umphrey’s Mcgee brought forward an unexpected series of twists and their own brand of classic jams. They were pensive and heartfelt, wild and loud, skilled and artful, all at different times. As this tour continues with appearances at festivals like Bonnaroo and Levitate and a three day stint at Red Rocks, it will only flourish and climb from what we saw in St Augustine this spring.
Umphrey’s McGee kills it every time and this show was no different. If you have never heard this band, stop what you are doing and check them out – no matter what your background or favorite genre is. Do not sleep on this tour – get tickets to your closest date today. You can thank me for the advice later.
Photos by Ablynn Photo
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