review by Neil Benjamin, photos by Matthew Balch
I won’t lie — I went into Umphrey’s McGee’s show at the Landmark Theater in Syracuse on January 17th with almost no high expectations. I had seen them nine times and not once was I blown away. It always seemed stale, like the music was a moldy piece of bread. Just guitar solos and crazy lights, which always made for a fun show, but UM never made the cut to my iPod. That has since changed.
So it came as a huge surprise to me when I walked out of the venue with a smile on my face, slapping hands and chatting about how great of a show it was. And it was! Not being familiar with a band’s full catalog can have serious consequences if you are reviewing a show. Luckily for me, I knew every song and had just enough UM experience to understand what was going on.
First, let’s talk lights. Jeff Waful, the band’s lighting director, is insane. Not the committed-to-asylum insane, but lights-in-your-face crazy. I am so used to Chris Kuroda of Phish that I never really thought lights for any music could be as powerful as they are for Trey and Co. Waful puts on more of a psychedelic feeling show, with lasers and rotating bulbs. The Landmark is a small theater and to fit a rig in there has to be difficult and cannot compare to playing a large festival or outdoor arena. Waful manages to weave in perfect diversions from Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss’ wicked guitar mania. Those two guys, who just so happen to put on a real guitar clinic every summer, are two of the most talented players going today. My only gripe is that the lights were so blinding that I couldn’t hone in on watching their fingers. As a guitarist, I try to take something from every guitarist I see play. I need to see them again, standing on the stage again, listening to them shred again.
“Miss Tinkle’s Overture”
“Cummins Lies” bled ever so thrashingly into “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” before a brief breath. “Walletsworth”, “Der Bluten Kat” segued into an instrumental of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” back into “Der Bluten Kat”, “Through the Cracks”, “Smell the Mitten” and “The Floor” made for a rocking set. The second set was where I got “it”, as in understanding the band. “Prowler” > “In The Kitchen” > “Deeper” > “#5” > “In The Kitchen” was a full-on dance-a-thon, It just kept heating up with “Let’s Dance”, “Utopian Fir” > “Cemetery Walk” lit the rafters ablaze with fiery soloing. An encore of “Miami Virtue” > “Glory” sent the almost-full theater home with a happy ending.
Set 1: Cummins Lies > Miss Tinkle’s Overture, Walletsworth, Der Bluten Kat > I’m On Fire > Der Bluten Kat, Through the Cracks, Smell the Mitten, The Floor
Set 2: Prowler > In The Kitchen > Deeper > #5 > In The Kitchen, Let’s Dance, Utopian Fir > Cemetery Walk
Encore: Miami Virtue > Glory