Not just your typical cap to a four-night run, Umphrey’s McGee also happened to be celebrating its birthday. On the 26th anniversary of their first-ever performance, the six power jammers took to the stage, eager to celebrate. The group walked out to the forceful and uplifting tones of “Nipple Trix” as they took their stations and began to improvise in classic Umph-fashion. A quick turn into “Phil’s Farm” brought smiles to the crowds’ faces as the band sprinted through the plucky lyrics and heavy guitar licks. The song quickly broke out into six minutes of funk-down before returning into the ending riff under the guiding hand of Joel Cummins’s sweet Sunday organ action. A fierce solo from lead guitarist Brendan Bayliss followed a sharp close left everybody titillated and excited for more.
The band dusted off an oldie and a goodie, “Example 1,” starting with a relaxed and cozy lounge groove that quickly spiraled into high-flying heroics from the band’s stunt guitarist, Jake Cinninger. “Are you feeling like you’re dropping out?” howled the band as they dropped into the muscular, heavyset riff of “Little Gift.” The song’s first appearance in 75 shows showcased the throaty, down-home, punch-you-in-the-mouth rock ‘n’ roll that Umphrey’s McGee commands with simultaneous force and tact. The heavy jam featured pounding toms and bass kicks from recently returned drummer Kris Meyers, who had been recovering from wrist surgery until recently. Dark and metallic, the jam writhed and unfurled into a blinding mix of synths and bends before floating down gracefully into the cheery and hopeful “Upward.”
Balancing a few well established tunes with something new, the band dove into “Hiccup,” from their latest album, Asking for a Friend. The jam culminated in a blazing final stretch that traded tasteful guitar licks into a skidding finish across the checkered line. As a victory lap, Joel celebrated with the ornate and bouncing piano thrust of “Kimble.” With classically designed riffs, bouncy syncopated bouts, and a grandiose theatrical finish, the song scratched an itch that only Umphrey’s McGee could possibly scratch. A large splash of resonating sound snapped into focus as the band strutted into “I Don’t Know What I Want,” another track from their newest album. The jam read like a true 80’s synth wave at the start, gradually shifting into a dub-based tone featuring teases of “It Doesn’t Matter,” from the band’s enigmatic bass playing centerpiece, Ryan “Bassik” Stasik. After their romp through reggae infested waters, the band drove deep into a careening variation on the song’s original theme, elevating into death-defying stunts from Cinninger on guitar.
The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to the band as familiar sliding bass notes of “Wappy Sprayberry” signaled the beginning of the second set of Umphrey’s birthday bash. A high speed slap bass solo immediately followed the chorus and funk gave way to soul as passionate guitar opened up space in the jam and crashing cymbals evoked a heartbreaking beauty. The tune dipped sharply back into a funk jam before a skyrocketing crescendo into the headbanging pre-chorus. Without a second’s hesitation, the band launched into the absolute ripper that is “Crucial Taunt.” The crowd was treated to the wonky rocker “Fenced In,” a monster jam on “Small Strides,” and the warm waters of “August.”
The band was far from finished as they welcomed longtime collaborator Kanika Moore to the stage for a heartfelt, energetic rendition of Tina Turner’s “The Best.” Moore’s powerfully impassioned vocals kicked the energy in the building up several notches as she sang out feelings that reverberated through every heart in the building. The band followed this with the down and dirty slow groove, “Hangover,” featuring eccentric vocal scatting from drummer Kris Meyers, varying rhythms, and strong crowd participation. Without pause, the band pivoted into the hard rocking “Kula” to close out the second set, delivering sharp blows and unleashing a tremendous force upon the Brooklyn Bowl to finish out their second set. Bayliss thanked the crowd for 26 years of audience support before the band walked up the stairs to exit the stage.
The crowd was treated to an encore as the band retook the stage with pounding drums and dove into “Triple Wide,” spinning heads and putting a worthy topper on an astounding weekend of music. Funky, driven jams laced with chilling guitar riffs and razor sharp synthesizers carried the band and audience to the finish line. The band slowed into a slow, suspenseful drop, briefly teasing “Stairway to Heaven” before dropping into one final blast of sound to send us home happy and fulfilled. Happy Birthday to Umphrey’s McGee, and a huge congratulations on another lap around the sun.