By Annie Licata
Editor in chief
Take classic arena rock sensibilities and a great light show, throw a thick coating of jam over it, and you have Umphrey’s McGee, the latest in an increasingly impressive list of jam band artists visiting Syracuse this month.
It’s been a good week for jam band lovers in Syracuse. No, not just for Trey Anastasio; Umphrey’s McGee brought big lights and big sound, as well as some balloons, to the Landmark Theatre, and may or may not have turned me into a jam band fan.
Maybe it’s the intricate design on the walls and the freshly poured Lebatt Blue in my hands. Or maybe it’s the chandeliers, but a smirk is forming on my face while I’m walking up the aisle to my seat. Umph just started playing and it’s not what I’d expect from the earthy, melodic tones of other jam bands like Phish or The Grateful Dead. It’s harder; it rocks in a different way. I clutch my ticket, my smirk turning into a smile.
The entire crowd is standing. Lights shoot out from the stage in yellows, reds, whites and blues. It’s hard not to get mesmerized when pretty lights are blasting in your face—but stop! Umph hits a break in the song after five minutes of build and the place goes hard as a mo’fucka.
“Dance.” That’s the only thing your brain says when these moments happen. Umph is jammin’ on the stage and the people to the right of me are making out and I’m getting smacked in the face with balloons and I’m like, “fuck, might as well dance this out.” Minutes later—because that’s what jam bands do, songs never end quickly and jams last indefinitely—the crowd is roaring and it’s onto the next adventure.
With six-to-eight minute songs, every song is quite an adventure. You’re certainly not in the same place at the end as you were when the song started. I’m not talking physically, even though you may have possibly danced yourself over to the next aisle, but mentally. By the end of the song, I am ready to stand on the velvet foldout chair behind me and play air-drums until I have a headache from the head-banging. I gracefully get down off the chair and politely return to my standing area.
Syracuse.com called Umph’s Jan. 17 performance at the Landmark Theatre “practice” for its performance at the Beacon Theater in NYC on Jan. 18. The band’s reappearance at the Beacon on Jan. 20 is dubbed the official 15th anniversary show, which sold out in less than seven minutes.
The band is finding a more-than-tolerable happy medium between the more alternative, somewhat Incubus-style rock and the spacey licks of jam band music. I kept an open mind going into this show because I had heard a lot of good stuff about Umphrey’s McGee, and I can’t find a reason to invalidate the gossip. Meanwhile, the short blonde girl with piercings graciously hands me a beer and the next song begins.
Here’s the set list via allthingsumphrey.com:
Miss Tinkle’s Overture
Der Bluten Kat
I’m On Fire
Der Bluten Kat
Through the Cracks
Smell the Mitten
In The Kitchen
#5, Let’s Dance, Utopian Fir