Walking in to the refurbished Capitol Theater for Umphrey’s Mcgee’s inaugural performance there, I literally felt like a kid on Christmas. And I’m Jewish! Instead of piles of presents under a tree or the slow-burn of eight candles via menorah, the crowd was treated to gifts of the sensory persuasion. These 21st century theater upgrades, courtesy of Relix and Brooklyn Bowl mastermind Peter Shapiro, include the only sound system of its kind in North America (and only one of 3 in the world currently); a mind-blowingly intense lighting rig normally reserved for huge arenas (with which UM lighting designer Jefferson Waful masterfully painted the room and band); 10 HD projectors creating a 360 degree planetarium effect on the walls and ceiling, as well as friendly staff and extremely convenient refreshment stations. All of these bells and whistles certainly enhance the concert-goer’s experience – but none of it is relevant without the six-man traveling musical monolith that is Umphrey’s McGee. The hardware will always be available to anyone, but the intangible cohesion and extraordinary talent that exists when these six men attach themselves to their instruments is irreplicable.
Opening their set with “Rocker Part 2”, UM took full advantage of the crystal-clear sound system. Andy Farag’s tight triangle work shown thru the rest of the band’s intricate intro, giving way to a brooding, prog-rock guitar bit before opening the tune wide open featuring a blazingly-fast solo by lead guitarist Jake Cinninger. The aural adventure had begun, and it did not quit for over 3 hours.
“Words” followed with heartfelt lyrics juxtaposed by crunchy, sometimes syncopated, sometimes airy guitars. The ever-popular “Sociable Jimmy” piggy-backed seamlessly on “Room To Breathe” before segueing into a devilish “Go To Hell,” a song that screams improg/nu-metal. Chunky guitar riffs, heavy keys from Joel Cummins, odd time signatures and incomprehensible drumming intensity make “Go To Hell” one of those songs you can only do one of two things to: head bang uncontrollably or watch in disbelief/amazement sporting a shit-eating grin. Drummer Kris Meyers is an absolute monster on this track, incredibly battling Jake Cinninger for who’s playing harder.
Visions of Parin followed, featuring an extended exploration of the tune that offered a heavy dance-funk backbone before closing with a syncopated hard rock climax. Segueing back to close “Room to Breathe”, UM finished their first set with a romping, twelve-minute rendition of “Bright Lights, Big City,” a 4-on-the-floor (with so much more) dance staple – until Umph turned the song on its head and rocked the ending on a mass scale.
While the first set was classic straight-forward UM, set two differed in that it really highlighted Umphrey’s McGee’s versatility. Returning from set break, guitarist Brendan Bayliss surveyed the crowd in true UM fashion, asking if we “wanted a rock song or a love song?” Rock triumphs all, obviously, leading the band through a blistering rendition of “Mulche’s Odyssey.” “Dump City” used its subversive, lurking funk – wait, that’s hard rock – wait, now that’s FUNK – to sandwich a jam of Miles Davis’ “It’s About That Time.” This seriously kicked ass.
“2×2” anchored the second set throughout, visited on 3 separate occasions, triple-decker-sandwiching the soaring rock beauty “Glory” and the ambient, emotional jam of “Theresa”, marking only the second time the band has ever played the song live.
Umphrey’s closed the second set in pure tribute-mode, creating a mutated Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus.” The Umphrey’s/Zappa connection is not hard to tell, and the band pimp-walked their way through his ’69 hit “Willie The Pimp.” Only at this point in the evening did the band truly take advantage of the incredible HD projectors that precisely coated the entire walls and ceiling, creating first a wavy, melting effect followed by some sinister eyeballin’, which the crowd really enjoyed.
The band was in perfect “Nothing Too Fancy” tempo the whole time, and soon enough they had morphed, bringing it home with the racing, duel-guitar death match which has become their unofficial anthem.
“It’s an amazing honor to play in this building, so much great music has gone down here and I wanna give a big thanks to Pete Shapiro for having us. This is an amazing project he undertook, to bring back such a great live music room for you guys. Come out often.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Joel Cummins continued to announce that the band would make their Beacon Theater debut on January 18, hopefully the first of many. One thing is for sure – This room was made for Umphrey’s McGee. Pete Shapiro’s “psychedelic rock palace” as he called it in the NY Times, is just that: a grand stage to present today’s most progressive, authentic, contemporary music artists, and Umphrey’s McGee has got those things in spades.
Set 1: Rocker Part 2, Words, Room to Breathe > Sociable Jimmy > Go to Hell, Visions of Parin-> Room to Breathe, Bright Lights, Big City
Set 2: Mulche’s Odyssey, Dump City, 2×2 > Glory > 2×2 > Theresa > 2×2, I Am the Walrus > Nothing Too Fancy > Willie The Pimp > Nothing Too Fancy
 with It’s About That Time (Miles Davis) teases and jam
 with Entrance of the Gladiators (Julius Fučík) tease
 with Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac) teases
 with The Pequod tease
I Am The Walrus> Nothing To Fancy (Part 1):
Willie The Wimp + Nothing To Fancy (Part 2):