Umphrey's McGee :: 07.03.10 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre : Morrison, CO
Red Rocks Amphitheater was built for Umphrey's McGee. Well, more likely, in their 12th year as a band, Umphrey's has meticulously groomed themselves to the point that the fruits of their labor are best understood within the naturally acoustic canvas provided at The Rocks. Nestled away in the outlying mountains of Denver, this sonically and visually perfect temple is one of the natural wonders of the music world, boasting cavernous, monolithic walls that act to make every note, every tone and every effect stand out distinctly. On top of it all, with the shimmering Denver skyline in the background, the perfect seating arrangement for incredible sight lines, fantastic weather and, of course, the organic beauty of the Rocky Mountains, it is most definitely a live music lover's dream and a band's fantasy land, especially a band as diligent and painstaking about offering perfection to their fans as is Umphrey's McGee.
Independence Day is a celebration of many different things. Of course, it all stems from America declaring itself an independent nation. However, over the years, with the hard work of many people even half as rigorous and selfless as Ben Franklin and Clara Barton, the infrastructure of the country has blossomed and flourished into the dynamic, bustling community that it is. Nothing is perfect, but nothing is set in stone either. There is always room for change, growth and improvement. Similarly, Umphrey's McGee is not an overnight sensation or a product of luck or marketing. Over a decade of work has been put into the organization, not to mention the combined decades of dedicated musical practice that the members undertook before even embarking on the UM dream. If nothing else, Umphrey's McGee is a realization of an original American idea. They are a small, successful merchant class business, built from the ground up, whose most important attribute to success is the dedication of the employees to their customer's satisfaction.
July 3rd was truly a celebration of so many things. America turned 234 years old and Umphrey's played their first headlining performance at The Rocks. After a thrilling set by Galactic that had the audience grooving in a solid sea of molten movement, Umphrey's arrived on the scene with their usual impeccable timing. Without hesitation or question, at the behest of the roaring audience, they dropped into their masterpiece Mantis" and it magically coincided with the first barrage of Denver's fireworks. Within the first 30 seconds, it was clear that this show was going to be something very special. At the halfway point of the song, they stopped, took a drink and a breath, played the Preamble," which usually starts Mantis," and this time introduced a blistering version of Mantis Ghetts." A sizzling Ghetts" made its way back into the Floyd-ish section of Mantis," which accelerated into screaming overdrive before plummeting into Ocean Billy." It was already evident that the band had tailored the setlist to showcase lead vocalist and songwriter Brendan Bayliss' booming voice, which was given extra depth by the Red Rocks space. After a fervid solo by guitar avatar Jake Cinninger, the band settled into a funky jam that built from a slow groove start to a energetic peak before returning to Ocean Billy" with a music box toned tease of their dance party classic Cemetery Walk II" by key master Joel Cummins over percussionist Andy Farag's twinkling chimes. The fireworks continued through the end of Billy" but the fireworks that lighting designer Jefferson Waful continued throughout the night as he sported around 30 Mac III LED cannons and dozens of other flashers and strobes.
The swelling intro to Wappy Sprayberry" came next, expanding from the catchy lead bass line by Ryan Stasik, layering piece after piece until it was a fully symphonic force, giving guitarists Cinninger and Bayliss a chance to lock in with Cummins' Moog synthesizer. There was likely not a single body in the place that was not dancing. Again, Stasik laid down a new riff for the band to expand on for an improvisational Jimmy Stewart." Cinninger joined Cummins on the keys for a down tempo, layered jam that really tested the limits of the venue's stellar sound capacity. Cinninger returned to his rig, where the boys plowed through a glitchy dance jam that led to the ending of Wappy," where they dropped into the dirty groove of Booth Love." Again, the layering of falsetto vocals and flanged guitar over enveloped bass and down tempo drums were all mixed in perfect harmony while still enjoying their own spotlight.
Booth Love" flowed nicely into 1348," and another funky jam ensued, which resolved into a thundering, majestic jam that captured the feeling of being in such a monumental place with rhythm master Kris Myers' quaking double bass drum rocking the foundation. Hajimemashite: followed, again showcasing Bayliss' vocal range and Cinninger's soulful, ripping guitar. Haji" settled back into a country tease that led into the fiery outro of 1348." Bayliss dedicated the next tune, the fitting, funky Hangover," to tomorrow." The end of the syncopated Hangover" brought the beginning of the raging, orchestral Mulche's Oddysey," which features lyrics further aligned with the perils of the morning after. With gusto, the six-headed music monster barreled into the revving climax, building the intensity to crash back into the screaming end. However, instead of actually ending, they reminded us all why they are the best. Without skipping a beat, an LED lightning strike thrashed them straight into the finale of Mantis," which even most veterans had forgotten about. Had you thought about it?" sang Bayliss heartily. Honestly, I had not, and the surprise made my heart laugh wildly. And, within a moment, the two-hour set of near perfection was over. Unquestionably, Umphrey's first headlining show at Red Rocks was a complete success. I feel as if I can even call it the best show I have ever seen.
The band returned the stage to a wildly cheering audience and quickly dropped into a Triple Wide" dance party. After Triple Wide" the crew returned all of Galactic's equipment to the stage to perform a mash-up of Michael Jackson's Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and Jimi Hendrix's Crosstown Traffic," laying down a massive jam and assuredly, sending everyone home happy.
2010 has been a huge year for Umphrey's McGee. They have toured across this nation and beyond, throwing down incredible shows in city after city, night after night. Dedicated fans and newbies alike have been raving about the tightness of all six members on their musical instruments combined with Waful's truly spectacular light show and masterfully crafted set lists. Umphrey's McGee was a band born to play in beautiful places like Red Rocks. They put so much effort into what they do, into making each night special and making the really special nights exactly that. If there was ever a lapse in the idea of 'standard Umphrey's greatness'--i.e. where it could counted on that, no matter what, it was going to be a great show on ANY night--that notion is most officially in full force this year. Umphrey's has played 2010 with a new luster and excitement at every show. They are always laughing and smiling onstage, as well as off, and are always hungry to go bigger and make things different and new, to make people say Wow!" They, like their fans, are having the time of their lives and to have a job that is the American dream.
Umphrey's McGee :: 07.03.10 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre : Morrison, CO Mantis > Mantis Ghetts > Mantis > Ocean Billy, Wappy Sprayberry > Booth Love, 1348 > Hajimemashite > 1348, Hangover, Mulche's Odyssey> Mantis E:: The Triple Wide, Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough/Crosstown Traffic
For more photos of Umphrey's McGee and Galactic at Red Rocks and The Gothic Theatre in Denver, check out the photo gallery below. You can also click through to the next page to view all the Red Rocks photos at once.