Umphrey’s McGee celebrated their 20th Anniversary on Sunday night, delivering a triumphant show at the Beacon Theatre that took their fans on a journey through their long-and-winding career. After inviting Israeli guitarist Oz Noy to the stage on Friday night, and after having Mike “Maz” Maher and Peter Apfelbaum as guests on Saturday night, Sunday night featured two sets and an encore of pure, unadulterated Umphrey’s McGee. Not typically ones to tip their hat, the band took the stage promptly at 8:00 PM and guitarist/vocalist Brendan Bayliss announced that they would be playing one song that was debuted from each of their years as a band, going backward in chronological order. With this announcement, a wave of excitement moved through the crowd, as each and everyone there understood that they were about to witness a truly special night in the band’s career. And special it was, as the band turned in a setlist filled with beloved fan-favorites from top to bottom, specifically the second set and encore that focused on the band’s earlier period of 1998-2007.

Celebrating their 20th birthday while promoting a new album, it made sense that this show started off with a song from it’s not us. The ethereal “Half Delayed” was a good medium-paced starting point for this trip down memory lane. Debuted on 12/30/2017 during UM’s New Year’s run at Denver’s The Fillmore, “Half Delayed” just made the cut as the band’s pick for 2017. After a faithful performance of the it’s not us standout, the band moved on to their 2016 pick, “North Route”, which was debuted one full year earlier on 12/30/2016 in Chicago. The instrumental track is next in line in a long line of instrumental-ragers that Umphrey’s has often leaned on in their live repertoire.

The short-but-sweet track quickly made way for “Draconian”, which was debuted during the band’s “All Debut” set at UM Bowl VI in Las Vegas on 5/1/15. This standout contemporary favorite marked the first improvisation of the evening and found Umphrey’s departing from the song’s form to focus on a chunky metal riff and a funky groove that meshed in a way that only Umphrey’s McGee can make sense of. Bassist Ryan Stasik led the band through this jam, using hand signals to push them in different directions. This version of “Draconian”, while thirteen-minutes long, is actually one of the shortest versions of the song ever played. Next up, the band delivered a fakeout of the title track from their 2014 album, Similar Skin, offering up just under three minutes of the percussive track that was debuted on 5/4/2014 at Brooklyn Bowl during the band’s launch-party for their record label: Nothing Too Fancy Music.

Shifting gears on the fly, the band surprised the crowd by falling into “No Diablo”, which was debuted on 4/26/2013 during the “All Request” set at UM Bowl IV in response to the crowd voting for a new original song. After the band finished up “No Diablo”, the crowd serenaded the band with a rendition of “Happy Birthday”.

Sticking with a similar theme for their pick for 2012, Umphrey’s followed “No Diablo” with “Comma Later”, which was also debuted as the response to fans voting for a new song for the band’s “All Request” set, this time at UM Bowl III on 4/27/2012. “Comma Later” saw the band delving off into more improv that played off the song’s jazzy fusion vibe that seemed to slowly melt into the familiar off-center melody of “Puppet String”, which was debuted at Summer Camp Music Festival on 5/28/2011. It soon became apparent that “Puppet String” had been started mid-song, with the song’s first verse and chorus skipped in what seemed to be a result of time constraints more than a pure musical decision. The song did feature a few minutes of jamming after the final chorus and guitar solo, but that quickly transformed into “No Comment”. Originally debuted at the Town Ballroom in Buffalo, NY on 3/4/2010, the bouncy track only appeared briefly, before dissolving into “1348”.

Debuted on 1/23/2009 at the Boulder Theater, “1348” has become one of the band’s biggest songs over the years, typically acting as a reliably high-energy song that bookends sets. Served up as an atypical stand-alone version, “1348 ” was short but intense, showing why the song has become so popular. As the song came to a close, the opening notes of “Gulf Stream” rang out. First played on 2/15/2008 at The Fillmore in San Francisco, CA, “Gulf Stream” is somewhat of a rarity these days, having only been played three or four times per year since 2011, so it was a welcome surprise to see it show up to close the first set.

While “The Floor” (debuted on 10/31/2007 at Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, CO) was written on the setlist as the first set closer, the band had to switch things around due to time constraints and moved it into the opening slot of set two. Another sign of the need to fit possibly too-many songs into one show, “The Floor” was left unfinished as the band moved into “Eat” (debuted on 2/22/2006 at City Hall in Nashville, TN), which was also carved down to about ninety-seconds to save time. While the second set may have started off with a couple of false starts, the remainder of the second set included some of the band’s biggest and best songs, all performed in their entirety.

“Higgins”, played for the first time on 8/26/2005 at the Recher Theatre in Towson, MD, has been one of the band’s most frequently played songs since it’s debut, with an average gap of just over 5 shows between appearances. To show just how often the song is played, the 26-show gap between the last version of “Higgins” and last night’s version is the longest gap in the song’s history. This version saw Umphrey’s stretch the song out with a prominent tease of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin'” by The Rolling Stones and some guitar fireworks from Jake Cinninger.

The next song, “Bridgeless”, started off a non-stop run of music that brought the second set to a close. The beloved progressive rager, originally debuted at The Barrymore Theatre in Madison, WI on 1/30/2004, contained a quick few minutes of improv that allowed for more impressive playing from Cinninger, who really seemed to come alive in the second set as the band moved further into their past. After finishing “Bridgeless”, the dramatic “Ocean Billy” emerged. Originally debuted on Halloween 2003 at The Egyptian Room at The Murat Centre in Indianapolis, IN, “Ocean Billy” is another of Umphrey’s most cherished pieces of music, and the band turned in a stellar version that showed that, when they are at the height of their abilities, Umphrey’s McGee can still take your breath away.

With the epic pair of “Bridgeless” and “Ocean Billy” as intense as it gets, the band shifted gears with their electronic favorite, “The Triple Wide”. Mixing jazzy changes, synth melodies, and thumping beats, “The Triple Wide”, which was debuted on 1/23/2002 at Dirty Nellie’s in Palatine, IL, the instrumental classic provided Lighting Designer Jefferson Waful the opportunity to let loose, projecting several rich colors and seemingly three-dimensional shapes on to the stage’s backdrop. Joel Cummins eventually started leading the way with his synthesizer, as he and Cinninger locked in for an improvised melody that shaped the song.

Without missing a beat, UM started up “Ringo”, which was originally debuted on 10/5/2001 at The Duck Inn in Evansville, IN. The multi-sectional funk/rock track is one of the band’s most tried-and-true improvisational vehicles, and while the constraints of this show forced a shorter version, it was still as ferocious as could be, and even contained a tease of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix as well as a proper drum solo for drummer Kris Myers. It turned out that the abbreviated take on “Ringo” was all to allow for an extended version of “40’s Theme”. First played on 10/28/2000 at The State Theatre in the band’s original home of South Bend, IN, “40’s Theme” was extended to fifteen-minutes long, complete with a funky jam led by Brendan Bayliss where he got the crowd clapping along to the beat. The song’s blissful peak and conclusion worked as the perfect exclamation mark for a rare set filled with the majority of Umphrey’s most impressive and important songs in their catalog.

Following a short encore break, Umphrey’s McGee returned to the stage with their managers Vince Iwinski and Kevin Browning by their sides holding a giant chocolate cake with twenty candles that read “Happy Birthday Umphrey’s McGee!” After Stasik blew out the candles and Iwisnki wished a happy birthday to “the best band on the planet”, UM busted out the fan favorite “All Things Ninja”, which was debuted on 6/24/1999 at Benchwarmers in South Bend, IN. However, the intense fan-favorite was only a fake out, as the band only delivered about seventy-five-seconds of the ultra-rarity before dropping into a show-closing version of their most played song, “All In Time”. Debuted way back on 2/7/1998 at Benchwarmers, “All In Time” is the definitive Umphrey’s McGee song. The 518th version of “All In Time” was certainly a special one, as Bayliss inserted some New York and 20th birthday-specific lyrics, and the band nodded to some extremely rare songs that no longer show up in setlists with much frequency, or at all. “10th Grade”, originally played at the band’s first show on 1/21/1998 and last played on 9/4/2004, was teased during “All In Time”, as was “Nachos For Two”, which last made it on to a setlist back in 2003. Of course, a portion of the emotional fan-favorite “Divisions” made an appearance as well, as did snippets of “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC and “Spirit Of The Radio” by Rush.

When all was said and done, the band fit twenty songs into three hours, showcasing the best and brightest material they had to offer. While some may complain that the show’s theme created a proverbial box that the band was forced to fit into, perhaps hindering their typical approach, the band took a break from their normal agenda and created a unique night of music that celebrated their past. If there’s any takeaway from last night, and from this past weekend as a whole, it’s that Umphrey’s McGee are a force to be reckoned with, and they aren’t slowing down anytime soon.

Umphrey’s McGee has a few days off before continuing the Northeast leg of their it’s not us tour in New Haven, CT, and Philadelphia, PA this coming weekend.

Setlist: Umphrey’s McGee | Beacon Theatre | New York City, NY | 1/21/17

Set 1: Half Delayed, North Route > Draconian, Similar Skin[1] > No Diablo, Comma Later > Puppet String[2] > No Comment > 1348, Gulf Stream

Set 2: The Floor[3] > Eat[1] > Higgins[4], Bridgeless[3] > Ocean Billy > The Triple Wide > Ringo[5] > 40’s Theme[6]

Encore: All Things Ninja[7] > All In Time[8]

[1] incomplete
[2] started mid-song; incomplete
[3] unfinished
[4] with Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (The Rolling Stones) jam
[5] with Voodoo Child (Jimi Hendrix) teases
[6] with Shake Ya Ass (Mystikal) lyrics from Brendan
[7] intro only
[8] with 10th Grade, Divisions, Nachos for Two, and Thunderstruck (AC/DC) teases
for the band’s 20th anniversary show, all of the songs played were in order of debut starting in 2017 and going backward one year for each song