Umphrey’s McGee Live at the Key Club

Umphrey’s McGee returned to Los Angeles on their West Coast spring swing. They are one of the few bands that have been predicted to pick up the baton from Phish, who previously picked up the baton from the Grateful Dead.

One major contributing factor that made those bands so popular was their relentless touring schedule, so I decided a repeat viewing of Umphrey’s would be in order. I had enjoyed their show eight months ago in October at this same venue and was curious what this evening would have in store because their concert schedule implies that they go on tour to play music, not just to support album releases.

I was in for a treat this evening, but my enjoyment of the show was due in large part to the fact that I am open to watching talented musicians create music not just play the hits. Most people go to concerts because they know what they are going to hear from the performer. Most people go to an Umphrey’s show because they don’t know what they are going to hear other than talented musicians making good music.

Umphrey’s shows are always different from night to night. If you look at the set lists of U2, their concerts stay pretty uniform with slight alterations in the running order and the occasional surprise thrown in. If you look at the Umphrey’s set lists, it’s rare to find a song repeated two shows in a row. There were only three songs repeated from the previous show I saw. That’s why they are one of the bands with the most bootleg concerts available online, a practice they are cool with and even encourage.

Umphrey’s usually set aside a section of the show that they call “Jimmy Stewart” where they jam from scratch and improvise and another called “Jazz Odyssey,” which has more of a structure to it. Tonight’s show had two of each, showcasing their musical skills. Even the songs that have lyrics were given extended musical treatments

One enjoyable element about Umphrey’s concerts is that the band is as much a fan of music as is the audience. They drop in teases and covers throughout the night. This evening we got two outstanding covers: Ozzy’s “No More Tears,” which I couldn’t get out of my head all the next day and the last song of the night, Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock.”

For those paying attention, there was a tease of AC/DC’s “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution,” Marley’s “Kinky Reggae” made it into the second half of “Utopian Fir,” and I’m certain that I heard a little Rush. I’m sure other musical Easter eggs appeared throughout the set.

The crowd danced up a storm and they were certainly an entertaining bunch. My favorite audience moment was when a kid who was front and center up against the stage, had a bong ripped away by security. His head followed and the smoke slowly billowed out of his mouth.

He shrugged his shoulders and through his glassy eyes he had a look on his face that said, “Wha?”

Coming in second place was the kid behind me who rode that fine line between bewilderment and clarity into the workings of the Universe when he pointed out to his friend that the date was 05/05/05. I hope he’s sober June of next year or his head will surely explode when the calendar hits the number of the beast.

My only disappointment was that there wasn’t a song played that tied into Cinco de Mayo. The closest they came was during “Thin Air,” which closed the first set. It had a Santanaesque bridge in the middle that connected the laid back Caribbean jazz of the beginning with the rousing rendition of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Their covers are always fantastic and I was hoping they would grace us with something that tied into the moment.

Fans of Umphrey’s should see the band whenever they come to your town. If you are new to the band, I would recommended you checking them out if you have an interest in either of the following genres: Progressive rock, jam bands, jazz.

The set list is below. Official live CDs of this or any Umphrey’s McGee show can be purchased at DiscLogic.

Set One: Plunger > “Jimmy Stewart” > Big Heart, Hajimemashite > Jazz Odyssey > Believe the Lie, Mail Package, Blue Echo > Jazz Odyssey > Thin Air

Set Two: Pay the Snucka (parts I and II) > Nothing Too Fancy > Bridgeless > “Jimmy Stewart” > Bridgeless, Wife Soup, Professor Wormbog, No More Tears, Utopian Fir > Nothing Too Fancy

Encore: Cherub Rock

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