There was no doubt that I would see them again when their new 2019 tour was announced, but this time as a photographer and reviewer. But Zack had other ideas. As I began going through the images I took and started getting my notes together, he sent me his notes from the show. Once I read them, I realized they were far more in-depth than I could ever write. Since our view of the show was identical, I’ve decided to be a little unconventional and post his review below.What’s your favorite way to warm yourself up on a cold winter night? Some might say a nice cup of hot cocoa while others might find solace in bundling up in blankets or having a nice fireside chat. But non-traditionalists like myself were treated to a face-melting heater from the mid-west’s own Umphrey’s McGee. But before the main act could hit the stage at the historic Taft Theatre in Cincinnati, up and coming group, Big Something, got the crowd raring to go with an hourlong set featuring a collection of songs that gave everyone there plenty of opportunities to get funky and dance. When the clock struck 8:30 and the lights went out we all knew it was time. After 21 years of being a band, Umphrey’s McGee still has the proverbial “it.” They opened the weekend festivities with crowd favorite In the Kitchen and transitioned seamlessly into the first of many jams (aptly leaving In the Kitchen unfinished, indicating that they would be cooking up jams all night). Throughout the first set, guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss proved that they are the best duo in the music business today by providing challenging and entertaining solos while constantly improvising with the other four members.
The first set moved right along with Seasons, Speak Up and Passing before getting to one of their “dancier” songs, The Triple Wide, which harkens sentiments of the electronic dance scene and really gets the crowd moving. After slowing things down with lovers’ favorite You and You Alone, the boys once again ramped it up with Women Wine & Song, which will make you feel like you’re down south rocking out. From there they went on to crowd favorite and Billy Joel cover The Stranger before finally returning to and finishing In the Kitchen to close out a thrilling first set.After a much needed 30-minute intermission to recharge, the band once again came on strong with a song that has become a common selection for them over the past twelve months, Attachments. The highlight of the second set (and dare I say the night) came in the moments after they finished the first song and moved onto a selection called Big Stew. For those unfamiliar with Umphrey’s McGee, a “Jimmy Stewart” (or Stewart/Stew for short) indicates a pure improvisational section in which the band arranges new music and songs on the fly. With improvising, sometimes a group can succeed with flying colors and sometimes they can be way off. But the former was certainly the case for Umphrey’s McGee on Friday night, something many of their fans have become used to expecting from them.
After tearing down the house with Cincinnati’s Big Stew, the band moved onto the technically challenging and face melting The Fussy Dutchman and rock song Cut the Cable. Then they took us down to Phil’s Farm, “an oasis for those who want to laugh, drink, smoke and play music”, for another southern rock experience. Before finishing Phil’s Farm, the band found a way to insert more two tunes, The Floor and Whistle Kids, before ending the song and second set in exhilarating fashion.
Had the night ended there, any fan would have left and been extremely happy. But there was still an encore to do and we were treated to a cover of the David Bowie classic Let’s Dance (featuring local legend, Nick Blasky) that would have left The Thin White Duke in awe.It’s incredible that after 21 years Umphrey’s McGee is stronger than ever. If you ever have the chance to see them, I highly recommend doing so. It’s an experience unlike any other and, as I alluded to earlier, an excellent opportunity to have your face melted… if you’re into that sort of thing. Zack Preston is a bona fide Umphreak who attended shows number 46 and 47 this past weekend in Cincinnati. He spends all of his spare time following Umphrey’s McGee from east to west coast and everywhere in between, including two trips to Red Rocks in Colorado, Chicago, Ashville and Atlanta. Many thanks go to him for contributing his insightful review of this show.