On a cold wintry night in the city of Buffalo, when there is so little to do at times, The Town Ballroom seemed to be the hot spot where folks were gathering. A diverse sell-out crowd of 580 was in attendance, comprised of local teenagers, heads and scattered in even a few older souls were anticipating a night a fantastic music. On January 16th, the Ballroom played host to two outstanding bands who have a very strong following in this region. Trucking through Buffalo on their first night of the current tour. Umphrey’s McGee set up shop at the Ballroom to give their fans a taste of this bands formidable sound at the start of their 15th anniversary tour. Their music includes elements of funk, reggae, progressive rock and just straight up improv jamming. Opening up the evening festivities was Rochester’s own Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. Known for their energy filled performances, this band brings an incredible reggae sound that seems to keep you dancing throughout the night.
Giant Panda is a Reggae infused Rock unit out of Rochester, NY. Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad is on tour now in support of their new releases, In These Times. For over six years, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad’s live shows have defined this band. GPGDS delivered from the onset. Opening up the night with “All Night Music”, “Move”, and “Pockets” before transitioning into “Healing”. The band brought that feel good vibe to the Ballroom with one song after another, leaving not a soul in the place standing. These songs showcased Giant Panda’s unique reggae sound. The band’s five masterful musicians weave layers of complex music within a reggae framework and may be one of the most diverse bands in the genre. They are sustained by their passion to reinterpret, explore, and expand its music night after night. Bassist James Searl, guitarist Dylan Savage and guitarist Dan Keller trade off vocals and guitar duties, with backup vocals provided by drummer Chris O’Brian and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Lipp. All those present seemed to be dancing and bouncing about to the rhythmic sound the band was generating. The band poured out their hearts and souls into this special collection of songs. The band rounded out their set with “Seasons”, “Moon” and closing with “.45”. A excellent performance from a band that continues to leave audiences stunned night after night.
Setlist: All Night Music, Move, Pockets, Healing, Family Sake, Whatever Cost, Missing You More, Wolf, Seasons,
After a brief break to swap out gear Umphrey’s McGee was ready to take the stage. As they set foot on the stage, the sell-out crowd erupted into a thunderous applause. I’ve never seen Umphrey’s live before, so with an open mind I awaited eagerly for their offering. As the lights dimmed and fog slowly began being pumped out into the air, the band eased into their first song as the stellar light show began. The music, slowly increasing in tempo the band finally burst forth into ” Nipple Trix”. They followed that up with “Slacker” into the Beatles’ “Baby You’re A Rich Man”. Not only was this a surprise, their version of this classic song was superbly well played. The shear energy the bands puts forth on stage truly comes out in the music. Sure, you can dance to it, but the clever arrangements, meticulously crafted chordal interplay and virtuoso instrumentation put Umphrey’s McGee in a category all their own. They concluded their first set with “Get In The Van” and “Hurt Bird Bath”.
The foundation of the bands sound is established by Andy Farag, percussionist and Kris Myers on drums. Myers and Farag’s thunderous drumming and percussion work is the backbone of this band. Brendan Bayliss, vocalist and guitarist abilities of this powerful group are evident from the start. His unique vocal delivery and guitar work were terrific throughout the performance. Another integral part of this band is Ryan Stasik on bass. Stasik working up and down the bass with incredible dexterity adds that funk and groove to this incredible music. Pushing the sound to another level is guitarist/vocalist Jake Cinninger who launches into feverish, mind blowing jams. A whirlwind on guitar with endless stamina, he brings power and energy to a band that is already amped to the max. Wrapping up this wonderful package is Joel Cummins on piano, keyboards and vocals. His wonderful voice and delightful playing are just another added bonus to a already talented band of musicians.
They band reappeared on stage after a set break around 10:45 pm to an already charged up audience at The Ballroom expecting more. Umphrey’s picked right up where they left off and launch into playing “Pay The Snucka”. They continued on with “Ringo”, “Kimble” and the Police’s “Walking On The Moon”, another outstanding cover version that the band crafted into their own. The band conclude the show with “Intentions Clear” and “Day Nurse”. The guitar rifts were almost endless, perpetuating the sound into another realm. Feeding off each other playing, the bands seems to push each other to exceed their present abilities and surge forward into new uncharted territory, leaving fans amazed and intrigued at what they are hearing and seeing. It had to end, the band left the stage to the cheers and applause of the packed house wanting more. The band obliged and return to the stage for an encore performing “Resolution” and “The Fussy Dutchman”.
I was left amazed. Song by song, they drew me in with their lyrics and music. I knew of this band’s stellar reputation on mixing original, technically demanding tunes with complex epics and, playful covers. But I wasn’t expecting this. Umphrey’s McGee kind of attention to melody, songcraft and musicianship makes them stand apart. Umphrey’s chemistry is frightening, their unpredictable spontaneous nature and spirit leads them to evolve musically into something greater than the sum of their parts. Never knowing where things are going to go keeps things fresh, which is one reason why the band has achieved the support and following of their fans. Pushing the musical envelope continuously from show to show, Umphrey’s McGee delivers one incredible show after another. This performance was just another feather in their cap. In the end, one thing that can be said for certain, Umphrey’s McGee gained another fan.
Set 1: Nipple Trix > Slacker > Baby You’re A Rich Man > Slacker, Rocker Part II, Much Obliged > Get In The Van, Hurt Bird Bath
Set 2: Pay The Snucka, Ringo > Kimble, 1348 > Walking On The Moon, Intentions Clear > Day Nurse > 1348
Encore: Resolution > The Fussy Dutchman