Each year Umphrey’s McGee makes a point to stop in at their home town for a mid-summer throw down at the Lawn at White River in Indianapolis, Indiana. This show is never one you should miss. From lightning storms, to blazing hot summer nights, and throw downs in the rain, the show at White river is always something special. This year on August 8th, Umphrey’s McGee pulled off a show stopping five song second set and a show packed with some new material. They live up to their written standard, “You have yet to witness our best.”
I have been seeing this band for years now, and I have to say they never fail to impress. They have pushed the standards of what a jam band can be. From their amazingly timed and technical light shows put on by Jefferson Waful, who is just as in tune with the music as one of the band members, to their high quality live streams, this band doesn’t just settle for your run of the mill rock show experience. When you choose to attend an Umphrey’s McGee show you are signing up for an entire rock and roll experience. These boys are bringing us the future of rock and roll and, boy, is it sweet.
It was a perfect summer night for a concert at the White River State Park which is nestled in downtown Indianapolis right by the canal. The sunset was beautiful and the people in attendance were even more beautiful. The White River State Park is a great place to see a show, it is a large outdoor amphitheater with plenty of elbow and dancing room on the large inclined lawn. It almost seems out of place to have such a large patch of grass right in the middle of a downtown area, so conveniently close to any sort of food and drink you could want.
As always, the band took the stage with punctuality and didn’t bother to warm us up for what was to come. They started the first set confidently with a song that isn’t often on the setlist, and was a first for me called “They Got the Wrong Guy,” and launched straight into an Umphrey’s classic called “Plunger.” I always have to note how incredibly impressed I am with this band's technicality in their music. It is amazing to me how each transition to each song is so perfect that it seems rehearsed, but almost none of it is. They set up a game plan and go for it tenaciously without hesitation. One moment you will be deep in a heavy guitar jam and suddenly realize that you are listening to a Metallica tune right in the middle of an Umphrey’s original, like they did during “Utopian Fir.” Each member of the band reacts together at the same time, without skipping a beat, it’s almost like they are in each other’s head. They ended the first set with and old school classic “In the Kitchen,” which references the band’s early days spent playing bars in Chicago, and always brings back a sense of nostalgia for me.
As the sun began to set during set break, we prepared for another set. The second set always seems like a second show to me. The lights are completely different and the rock and roll seems to sound different in the dark warmth of a summer night. This second set was something special. The band took their time exploring just five different songs, each with a more intricate jam then the last. The set list is simple and started with a song played by the band many, many times, “Bad Friday,” and went right into “JaJunk,” “Slacker,” and a stellar cover of “Kashmir,” by Led Zeppelin. They ended the technical jam set with quite possibly one of the songs that impresses me the most and is quite likely one of the most difficult songs the band performs, “Dur Bluten Kat.” This song references Beethoven inspired piano riffs surrounded by echoing guitar riffs. The musical knowledge and reference of Umphrey’s McGee never ceases to impress me. They ended the night with a three part encore of “Similar Skin” > “Triple Wide” > “Similar Skin” and left me counting down the days until the next time I get to witness the killer rock and roll experience that is Umphrey’s McGee.