The third show in three nights always presents a challenge, particularly when you know there is a fourth one coming up the following night. Do you take it easy or try to power through? For Umphrey's McGee, last night was one of those "power through" nights with a big emphasis on "power." Like I said yesterday, Niagara Falls was the beginning of the "muscle" playing from the band. Well, last night in Pittsburgh was more shamless flexing as the band delivered two sets of super powerful playing both from a technical and improvisational standpoint.
Set I: Bathing Digits > Mulche’s Odyssey, Intentions Clear > Cut the Cable, Syncopated Strangers > Out Of Order > Syncopated Strangers, No Diablo, Der Bluten Kat > Last Train Home > Der Bluten Kat
How They Played
This set featured two major sections worth discussing, the first of those being the "Syncopated Strangers" and "Out of Order" sandwich. Before we get to that, allow me to explain a theory I have. When a Jake-led song opens the show ("40's Theme," "Mulche's," "Ringo," etc.) you're in for a big night. Cinninger vox out of the gate seem to signal, more often than not, a noteworthy night. So, the "Mulche's Odyssey" open got my attention early and the band took a step in proving my theory with their work during this first segment.
"Syncopated" is a tune that used to see its fair share of improv way back in the day (like, 2005, not your parents' "way back in the day") but is rarely broken up in the later years. This year, however, the tune has seen somewhat of a resurgence on that front, with the group not afraid to mess around within the confines of the song (check out the 8/15/14 version if you don't believe me) much like they did tonight. The impressive part was actually on the back end of "Out of Order," where the group expertly dropped back into "Syncopated" without a lick of dead air.
Following a well-played "No Diablo" (which is thriving in its new arrangement), "Der Bluten Kat" was then paired up with Pat Metheny's "Last Train Home," a gorgeous take on an already beautiful song. Credit to Cinninger and Myers for leading the group through a lovely interpretation.
I'd really be remiss if I didn't at least mention the "Intentions Clear" > "Cut the Cable" segment. The former being one of the group's best songs (give me anything off Safety in Numbers, really) and the latter one of their best new songs. "Cut the Cable" is always a great to inject a quick shot of rock and roll into a set, and the band placed it perfectly after a fairly groovy "Intentions Clear" jam.
Forget about giving it one guy, how about all six? This set wasn't based on pure improv as much as it was difficult and unique transitions between tunes. To pull this off as smoothly as they did, it had to be a team effort. Go Team Umphrey's.
For you Metheny nuts, definitely go dig on that "Last Train Home." It was gorgeous and contrasted the heaviness of "DBK" quite perfectly. I've heard complaints about the "DBK" > Cover > "DBK" model, but this shouldn't fall into that category. A well-done, thoughtful construction. Personally, I already find myself jumping straight to the "Syncopated Strangers" sandwich. "Out of Order" remains one of the band's most underrated tunes and slid effortlessly into the middle section of "Syncopated." The return is also a master class in band communication.
Set II: Bad Friday, 1348 > The Floor, Tribute to the Spinal Shaft > Immigrant Song, August > Resolution > 1348
Enc: Wizard Burial Ground
How They Played
Didn't I mention "Bad Friday" recently? Oh, that's right. Without embarrassing myself too much, let's just say there was a big ol' Tiger Woods-like fist pump after this one finished. The crowd seemed to agree. A relentless, pounding, in-your-face jam that set off a run that isn't for the faint of heart. Moving into "1348," you weren't going to get a breather any time soon. Umphrey's charged through some aggressive jamming before quieting down only to build it back up into yet another banger--"The Floor." While this particular version didn't come pre-loaded with any improv, the damage was done as the strength of The Steel City was really being put to the test.
They'd get a breather, sort of, with "Tribute," but the band had another hammer to swing as the Joel Cummins-led "Tribute" jam turned into a bit of a Rolling Stones-esque, honky tonk section before building and building into Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." Those who think jambands can't sing should really check this one out. You know a set is going well when "August" is a cool-down song, but that's what we had here.
"Resolution" started with Brendan actually playing the riff of the song first, making the full band entrance more of a moment than it normally is, going right into the first verse of the song. The first "Reso" jam represented their first stumble--MAYBE. Before going back into the lyrics it appeared as if half of the band wanted a return to the unfinished "1348." Maybe it was intentional, maybe it wasn't, but when you're firing on all cylinders like this band is right now, even your fuck-ups manage to sound planned. They made up for it in the second go-round in "Reso," executing a much smoother return to the "1348" finish.
If Pittsburgh really wanted more. If they REALLY wanted more, they got it in the encore as the band left the city in ruins with "Wizard Burial Ground." If you want to piss off your neighbors, turn this one way up. Thank me later.
Screw it, can we just give the whole band MVP again? Is that allowed? Oh, I make the rules? Then it's settled. Score another point for TEAM Umphrey's as they prove it's really about the execution of six that really brings home the bacon (or makes the donuts, whatever).
You will never, ever go wrong with this "Bad Friday." Infectious, danceable music from start to finish, representing a bright future for the band's songwriting ability. While most of the set stands out, "Resolution" > "1348" is interesting for the apparent stumble and then recovery. It's neat to hear the band regroup after falling out of sync.
Through three shows, the upward trajectory is there, for sure. One thing to really send this tour over the edge would be a Midwest show in a familiar venue. Oh, The Orbit Room in Grand Rapids is tonight? Buckle up. 9 PM ET.