Umphrey’s McGee returns to First Avenue for two nights

With another cold Minnesota winter nearing its end, Chicago prog-rockers Umphrey’s McGee returned to Minneapolis for their fifth annual multi-night run at the legendary rock club First Avenue.  This year the band is playing two shows instead of three, which they did in 2009 and 2010.  With that said, I was surprised that Friday, March 4th didn’t appear to sell out.  In the past, the band always sold out nights one and two.

The first set of Friday night took off with a “Sociable Jimmy,” but it wasn’t until the end of the first set that the band really seemed to catch fire. The band seemed distracted, and it didn’t help that glowsticks were flying towards the stage. In the past years at First Avenue, the crowds have been respectful and great, but half-way through the first set, bassist Ryan Stasik called out a kid in the crowd who through a glowstick his way.  “If you have a problem, we can do this one on one, but this isn’t the place.”  The kid hid like a coward as the crowd called him out.

Singer Brendan Bayliss finished it off with, “Ok, let’s get back to the rock-show.”  That they definitely did and the crowd followed.  Umphrey’s pulled off a real nasty version “Plunger” before set break.

Set two began with a rocking “Jajunk” before heading into an absolutely spot-on cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time”.  It was beautiful, as was the “Wappy Spayberry” -> “Booth Love” that followed.  “Booth Love” is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.  Jake Cinninger’s voice sounds great on that one.  The band then had every last person in the house boogieing to a super-awesome cover “Peg” by Steely Dan.  They ended the set with a rockin’ upbeat “Slacker” before tearing the house down during the encore with a super-heavy “Pay the Snucka”.  It was a fine ending to a kickin’ set.

Umphrey’s McGee – First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN – 03.04.11
Set One: Sociable Jimmy, Rocker II, Nothing Too Fancy, 13 Days, The Bottom Half > Jazz Odyssey, Plunger
Set Two: JaJunk, Time > JaJunk, Wappy Sprayberry  > Booth Love, Peg, Slacker
Encore: Pay the Snucka

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Night two was fantastic.  Umphrey’s had the engines primed and they didn’t hit a bump all night.  The first set was a rocker, and the second got a little funky.  As the band took out Toto’s “Roseanna,” local saxophonist, Kevin Sinclair, once again joined the band on stage as he had many of the past years at First Avenue.  Although his appearance didn’t compare to last year when the band played a jaw-dropping “Wappy Sprayberry” with him on sax, it was good, just short-lived.  The “Nothing Too Fancy” that concluded the unfinished version from the night before was very focused, and it had the crowd raging. First Avenue ended with a nice version of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain.”

Then it was time to go next door to the 7th Street Entry to see Brendan, Joel and Andy play the afterparty.

Umphrey’s McGee – First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN – 03.05.11
Set One: Red Tape, Ringo > Space Funk Booty > 2×2, Conduit, Tribute To Spinal Shaft
Set Two: Mulche’s Odyssey, Higgins, Roseanna^ > Bridgeless > “Jimmy Stewart” > Turn and Run >
Nothing Too Fancy
Encore: Fool in the Rain*

^ Toto cover, Saxophonist Kevin Sinclair joined band for the outro jam
* Led Zeppelin cover

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Brendan Bayliss, Joel Cummins & Andy Farag – 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis, MN – 03.05.11 (afterparty)

It was a lively atmosphere in the tiny and dimly lit 7th Street Entry.  Before the guys got started, Brendan Bayliss exclaimed, “We’re really not sure what we’re doing here. We’re just doing this so you can drink more.”  The half-drunk-already crowd seemed OK with that and they sang along all night, falling upon each other with beer being spilled all over.

Percussionist Andy Farag was in charge of kicking the beats, and he did so electronically, and on a Pearl percussion box and a conga.  They started off with “In the Kitchen” and mixed in other originals including “Made to Measure”.  Cover songs were the highlight though.  The guys covered “Jesus Etc.” by Wilco, “Baby You’re a Rich Man” by the Beatles and several others.  But the best part of the entire show was the “Benny & the Jets” -> “Baby I Wanna Get With You and Your Sister Deborah” -> “Benny & the Jets” segue.  Brendan asked the crowd to sing along, and that they did.  He enjoyed it so much that he brought it back to “Benny! Ba-ba-ba-Benny!  Ba-ba-ba-Benny & the Jets!” probably 10 times, with the crowd ready to go 10 more.

The intimacy of this afterparty was great.  Joel Cummins’ keyboard sounded ridiculously beautiful in such a small room, and Andy Farag did an excellent job on the beats.  Umphrey’s guitarist Jake Cinninger, came out to get rowdy on percussion at the end of the night.  Good times were had by all and the band was nice to hang out and take some photos with the crowd afterward.  It was a great way to end another First Avenue run.

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