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  • October 16th, 2018

    reCAP :: Umphrey’s McGee :: 2018.10.14 :: The Capitol Theatre

    Words by: Julia Wolfe
    Photos by: Scott Harris

    Celebrating over 20 years of writing and performing, the mystical six members of Umphrey’s McGee remain courageous in their improvisational conversations, only to contrast the modesty behind their music. The released two albums in 2018 within months of each other, both cleverly entitled It’s Not Us and It’s You. These albums center around the band’s primary source of inspiration, the experience of their live shows, and the MASSIVE number of fans that attend them. These shows aren’t just about witnessing musicians with an immense ability to ping-pong ideas on the fly, or admiring the sequential transformation of their long-reigning career. No…these shows are about us, the fans, and the wave of hundreds that packed The Cap Sunday night was a true testament to that.

    Long before music rang from the main stage, patrons settled in and buzzed in anticipation around The Cap’s corridors. A community of people from near and far greeted each other and made new introductions, unphased that it was a Sunday night and responsibility would creep up tomorrow. Sunday’s part of the weekend after all, so why worry?

    With drinks in hand, spirits lifted, and blues resounding from opening band Southern Avenue in the early evening, it was already time to move. Energy rose at an alarming rate from the trifecta of slick guitar licks from guitarist Ori Naftaly, crisp runs of vocalist Tierinii Jackson and unique percussion patterns of drummer Tikyra Jackson, the sister of Tierinii. Bleeding out the blues on tracks from their recent release, you couldn’t help but sway, clap, and stomp to the beat as more people moved in and mimicked your moves. While the amount of dancing remained at a vibrant constant as the night went on, room to do so became scarce, and the anxiety grew for Umphrey’s to fill the nearly full theatre with that Jimmy Stewart improvisational mastery that takes us right back to the 90s.

    Umphrey’s takes the cake for ensemble cues and signals, made apparent in between their opening numbers, “The Pequod” and “Mulche’s Odyssey” from Anchor Drops. These guys have been around long enough to pick up on a vibe, and a simple glance from Brendan Bayliss to Jake Cinninger was enough to move to the following song at a rapid pace, without anyone knowing of its spontaneity. Bassist Ryan Stasik held this power to alter as well, giving off his own visual cues to the band during the accelerating riff of “Bridgeless.” This unspoken communication was so flawless and subtle, and each transition of polyphony kept bodies warm and moving, as the wide walls of The Cap boasted the amplification to surround you. Before closing out their first set, the band brought back members of Southern Avenue to do an oh-so-bluesy cover of “Come Together,” setting three guitarists free to solo and bend their strings to the absolute limit, achieving that perfect cry suitable for the Beatles.

    Even with two hours worth of new material to add to the setlist, Umphrey’s played a surprisingly low amount of new songs in their second set. We got a taste of It’s You when they segwayed into the rather hair metal-esque intro of “Seasons,” but they went back to 2004 shortly after and revisited Anchor Drops with “Plunger.” The lack of new songs didn’t seem to stir the audience, and they had a few covers to make up for it, including “I Ran” from A Flock of Seagulls and “La Grange” from ZZ Top. After a long duration of instrumental music, it felt right to belt along to such familiar songs and catch a second wind.

    Umphrey’s played “Ocean Billy” as the final song in their set, and they barely walked off stage before the audience demanded an encore. It was well into the night at that point, about 11:30pm, but the theater remained full up until their encore of “Kula” and another visit to “Bridgeless” bid the audience goodnight.

    The fan dedication to Umphrey’s McGee is unparalleled, allowing them the flexibility to cut back on their overall number of shows, and generally not worry about their studio album sales. This is a group that blossomed right around the craze of the internet, and they worked hard to absorb loyal fans nonetheless. These fans are well connected, sharing stories of their favorite Umphrey’s shows and traveling from out of state to see them transcend The Capitol on a Sunday night. It’s these people that keep the band permanently at rockstar status, and this community will faithfully attend the next Umphrey’s show…and the next…and the next…