After two long years away, Asheville, NC’s old friend Umphrey’s McGee returned to for its traditional February two-night run. Friday’s show at the Arena saw a bust-out of Metallica‘s “…And Justice For All”, not played in nearly two years.

Setting the mood ahead of UM was lespecial. This marked the first arena show for quickly-rising progressive three-piece, and it’s hard to imagine the band going back to anywhere smaller. As bassist Luke Bemand belted out the original “American Apocalypse”, the group defined arena rock at its finest. lespecial paid homage to its myriad heavy influences, including covers of Primus‘ “Frizzle Fry” and a mash-up of King Crimson‘s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and Black Sabbath‘s “Iron Man”.

The main event arrived promptly at 8:30 p.m. ET as Umphrey’s McGee took the stage. The band had not performed in the North Carolina music haven since February 18th, 2020, when it put on back-to-back shows at the downtown arena with opener Billy Strings. The techno decadence of Umphrey’s McGee’s walk-up song “You Got The Wrong Guy” quickly shattered as the band dove straight into the progressive equational rock which has made it a household name.

Loading up for the long weekend ahead, Umphrey’s beckoned us all to “Get In The Van”. While openers lespecial had only just proved its status as an arena band an hour before, UM’s place on the big stage is a well-known fact. The only thing missing was the pyrotechnics.

Behind the band, what looked like a giant rock wall—possibly an allusion to the band’s upcoming Röckjavik destination event in Iceland—caught the darker colors of the visible spectrum as guitarist Brendan Bayliss encouraged a slow-building jam that evolved into an all-out headbang, emerging as “The Floor” on the other side.

Pushed along with interstellar phasers from keyboardist Joel Cummins, the lengthy “The Floor” reached out into space for the first dose of major improvisation of the evening. Up next, Brendan’s angsty, 90’s style vocal delivery was balanced out by fellow guitarist Jake Cinninger‘s harmonics on “Uncommon”. The solo saw more fretboard acrobatics from Cinninger, as his two-handed tapping drew a musical rainbow akin to the lights overhead.

This bled into “2×2”, which featured a jam based around David Bowie‘s “Fame”, though the song itself was not played in full. The funk improvisation based around the Starman’s Young Americans hit proved yet another musical dimension of Umphrey’s McGee.

Umphrey’s McGee – “Uncommon” > “2×2” – 2/25/22

Between songs, Bayliss greeted the audience saying, “Asheville, it’s been a while” a la Staind. This was followed by UM’s latest single, “I Don’t Know What I Want“, blending together retro 80’s instrumentation with Brendan’s despondent lyricism. “All In Time” came next, with its heavenly chorus of twin guitars.

The live staple ultimately segued into the perhaps a little on the nose “We’re Going to War” for those who read the news. For those who are resigned to our inability to effect change on a global scale—or those who just didn’t know the song’s name—it was nice to lose a couple of brain cells headbanging away. The first set came to a close with “Believe the Lie”, with a machismo jam like something out of Top Gun, as drummer Kris Myers turned on the engines and Brendan and bassist Ryan Stasik activated the afterburners.

There’s no better way to return from setbreak than Jake Cinninger barking out “40’s Theme”. The song opened up into an eerie, palm-muted jam akin to “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 1”. Bayliss led the pack with syncopated improvisation and some two-handed tapping of his own. Brendan played it understated while Cinninger, in turn, lit off sparks from his Fender Stratocaster-style G&L.

“Higgins” came next, offering a down-tempo reprieve with its laid-back island vibes. Between songs, the crowd voted on whether Ryan Stasik should die his mullet platinum, which received resounding approval from the audience. Pics to come, hopefully.

“Jajunk” followed, opening up into a discordant jam as Umphrey’s continued to linger in improvisation for a set filled with a small number of lengthy songs. This flowed into “Mail Package”, wherein Jake amended the song’s lyrics to include a shoutout to Asheville, North Carolina. The song developed into a dubby groove as Stasik and Cummins locked in step.

With the set winding down, it was time for the crowd-pleasing “In The Kitchen”. Featuring a harmonic jam, the song bled back into “JaJunk” to close the second set. Before departing for the encore break, Bayliss graciously extended an invitation to come back “if you got nothing to do tomorrow.”

Taking the Arena stage one more time, Umphrey’s McGee paid homage to stadium rockers Metallica with a bust-out of “…And Justice For All”. Umphrey’s had not covered the title track to the Bay Area metal giant’s 1988 since 3/6/20, per AllThingsUmphrey’s. Kris Myers took the final spotlight of the evening, really getting behind his kick drum and delivering a spot-on James Hetfield impression.

Like Bayliss said, “if you got nothing to do,” Umphrey’s McGee is doing it again in Asheville tonight, February 26th. Visit the band’s website for tickets or click here for livestream packages. Full-show audio is available courtesy of taper NSL.

Umphrey’s McGee – Arena – Asheville, NC – 2/25/22

Setlist: Umphrey’s McGee | Arena | Asheville, NC | 2/25/22

Set One: You Got the Wrong Guy > Get In The Van > The Floor, Uncommon > 2×2 [1], I Don’t Know What I Want, All In Time-> We’re Going to War, Believe the Lie

Set Two: 40’s Theme, Higgins, JaJunk > Mail Package, In The Kitchen > JaJunk

Encore: …And Justice for All (Metallica)

[1] with Fame (David Bowie) jam