The South Bend-bred prog-fusion band that got its start at small Michigan venues proved its fan-fueled, instrumental mettle in a sold-out show Wednesday at Meijer Gardens. The review, photos, set list.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY & WEDNESDAY’S SET LIST
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Decades ago, Umphrey’s McGee sowed the seeds of its jam-band legacy — and began growing its devoted fan base — with regular stops at The Intersection in Grand Rapids and other Midwest clubs.
The genre-melding, prog-fusion outfit from South Bend has since conquered the country with its on-stage instrumental prowess and ultra-faithful UM fan base, something that was certainly in evidence Wednesday night for the band’s return to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
And when I think of great ways to spend summer nights, few things top listening to live music under a setting sunny sky — something Umphrey’s McGee capitalized on quickly with a groovy sample of psychedelic, jam-band goodness.
Although there were some hiccups in the form of keyboards losing sound output to the speakers, the crowd remained energized and reveling in the atmosphere, one that’s unique compared to most Meijer Gardens shows.
“We love this place and we love playing for you guys,” frontman Brendan Bayliss told the capacity crowd. “I remember the first time we played here, we thought we would never get invited back.”
Fans of the band’s newest studio album, “Asking For A Friend,” released just last month, were gifted with a live performance of the track, “So Much.” And judging by the level of applause and noticeable backing vocals from fans, this new record seems to be a hit. The song served essentially as a palate cleanser from the long-winded jamming, as it sports a sweet, country-tinged soft-rock instrumental and few jam band antics.
The band followed with “Utopian Fir,” one of the evening’s highlight that had Umphrey’s McGee guiding a musical roller coaster, twisting and turning through tight sonic quarters. Beginning with a memorable riff and transitioning into explosive full=band jam test pieces, then to quiet, tension-building segments, and finally bringing it back around to the original riff that began the song, “Utopian Fir” proved why it is a staple of UM concerts.
“Their guitarist is very talented and I love listening to all the unique sounds he’s able to create,” noted fan Andrew Puro. “Also, because the drums are so important to a jam band, the drummer has a lot of power and influence in the way the songs progress, and I think the drummer in Umphrey’s McGee did a great job guiding the band.”
After a 20-minute intermission, Umphrey’s McGee returned to finish out the night with the sun behind the trees and the backing lights turned on to add to the psychedelic milieu — an environment that would have been improved had some fans in the crowd focused more of their attention on the music being created than on conversations with those next to them.
Overall, it was a magical night, even for a jam-band neophyte such as myself (compared to some of the retired Deadheads on hand Wednesday), showcasing wildly talented musicians who deserve the accolades and audience growth they’ve experienced since those formative years on the club circuit in the late 1990s.
PHOTO GALLERY: Umphrey’s McGee at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Chelsea Whitaker
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