To a degree, writing a review for a jam band’s show is an exercise in futility. Even more so than an ordinary concert, these types of shows need to be experienced to be understood. Though I’m no expert in the field of jam bands, the show Umphrey’s McGee played on Friday night at Miami Beach’s Fillmore was perhaps the most impressive representation I’ve seen of just how high the genre can reach.
Formed by students at the University of Notre Dame in 1997, Umphrey’s McGee built a reputation and strong fan base on a foundation of near-constant touring, and flairs for improvisation and unique set lists in the same vein as jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. Musically, the group blends elements of rock, jazz, blues, reggae, funk, and metal, among many others.
As with other groups that fall under the jam band umbrella, whose fans attend many shows and at times even follow the groups on tour, Umphrey’s McGee has a penchant for unique set lists and extended improvisations during marathon sets. This was in full force at the Fillmore on Friday night, as the band played two full sets, an encore, and performed for well over three hours.
After seeing how devoted the fans at the show were, it’s difficult to understand why this band, even despite its truly atrocious name, had trouble selling tickets at Miami Beach’s Fillmore. This is a group that can sell out three-night runs at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, and played a much larger venue the night after the Miami show at St. Augustine’s Amphitheater. On Friday, the Fillmore didn’t seem to be near capacity at any point, with the highest balcony curtained off and a surprisingly comfortable amount of breathing room on the floor.
Regardless of the lackluster attendance, those of us who were in the building for the show were treated to over three hours of varying genres and exceptional musicianship. Jake Cinninger was one of the most impressive lead guitarists I’ve seen live, elevating the rest of the band with his thrilling solos and flourishes. The presence of a second drummer provided an added depth to the rhythm section, which acted as the foundation for the group’s advanced compositions.
This concert also included some of the more impressively choreographed visuals I’ve seen in some time, especially considering what they consisted of: simply an old-school light show. No screens, no graphics, no gimmicks. Just lights that were choreographed to move perfectly in time with the songs, entrancing some of the more over-stimulated concertgoers in attendance.
In the only instance of stage banter throughout the entire evening, frontman, singer and guitarist Brendan Bayliss told the crowd “we love this city and we love this room. We came to have a good time, how about you?”
The tight-knit world of jam bands is something that I only gained an interest in about two years ago, but I feel that I’ve had a decent crash course over that period of time. After a few Dead & Company shows, a night with Phish, a Dave Matthews Band concert, and a handful of ancillary others, I’d like to think I at least have a good point of reference. Standing alongside all those other shows, I can confidently write that Umphrey’s McGee put on the best concert I’ve seen to date within the jam band arena. I can only hope the next time the group makes it down to South Florida, they’re greeted with more fans.
1) Nipple Trix
2) Remind Me
3) Xmas at Wartime
5) What We Could Get
6) Miami Virtue (with “Strangehold” by Ted Nugent)
7) White Man’s Moccasins
8) Ride on Pony
10) Making Flippy Floppy (Talking Heads cover)
11) Night Nurse
12) Booth Love (with “Kashimir” by Led Zeppelin)
13) Wizard Burial Ground
15) Phil’s Farm
16) Gulf Stream
17) Maybe Someday