Last Sunday, March 12, the Chicago-based progressive aggressive improvisational six piece known as Umphrey’s McGee crammed themselves, their full arsenal of gear and a fraction of their typical lighting array onto The Grate Room stage at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, CA.
TXR, of course, is one of two venues now that Grateful Dead bassist and venue proprietor Phil Lesh will frequent and with hi band paving the way for groups like Umphrey’s McGee to thrive on the road the opportunity comes as an honor and a treat for the band and their fans alike.
The capacity of The Great Room maxes out at 420 people, marking the one of if not the smallest room UM has played in at least ten years with The Belly Up in Aspen, CO coming in close behind with 450 Needless to say, it was a very intimate experience that featured a healthy spread of old and new originals as well as fan-favorite covers.
The show kicked off shortly after 8PM with “October Rain” a song that debuted as an intro in early 2014 as well as a markedly more fleshed out studio take that was released on the single Seven Inches later that same year.
The rain continued to fall, not in Africa but instead over a wide open “Higgins” and the first cover of the evening, “Rosanna” by Toto, a cover that only gets played once or maybe twice per year after being a heavy feature in the bands early career. Check out this video of the song:
“Rosanna” eventually melted into the Local Band Does OK track “Prowler”, a fast paced tune with a heavy and melodic flurry of Miami sounds, like something straight out of the Showtime series “Dexter” – and it fit perfectly in the marina vibe of the harbor restaurant.
A triple decker grilled sammy followed: “Similar Skin” from the 2014 arena-rock album of the same name was split with a hefty serving of cushioned bottom end and piercing melodic leads found in a nine minute “The Triple Wide” before returning to the unmistakable drum pattern that leads the charge of “Similar Skin”. The small stage and inability of lighting director Jefferson Waful to install the full array of lights made this particular “Triple Wide” a treat if only becaue it forced the energy of the room to focus more on the music in place of the typically jaw-dropping lighting display.
Guitarist Brendan Bayliss opted to switch things up for the next pair of songs by moving to an acoustic guitar for the rarely played and emotional track “The Weight Around”, which made it’s 15th set list appearance since being debuted in 2010. “No Diablo” which most recently appeared on 2015’s The London Session and was revealed in a recent interview with Bayliss to be one of his kids’ favorite songs, was also played with Bayliss on acoustic guitar. Check it out below:
Bayliss introduced the final song of the set as a song “about getting fucked up with your friends” before launching into the guitar-ripping funk party that is “40s Theme” which featured a surprisingly patient jam and a spirited finish from Bayliss’ exit solo.
After a half hour set break, the band returned to the stage with one of their most widely recognized songs, “In The Kitchen” off of 2005’s Anchor Drops. For the next 50 minutes, the band segued, jammed out, and teased from song section to song section without stopping.
The monster jam vehicle “Utopian Fir” began and almost as quickly as it started, dropped into an incomplete cover of the Led Zeppelin classic “Immigrant Song” for it’s first play since February of 2015, or 196 shows. After two minutes of getting the Led out they transitioned back into the main theme of “Utopian” before losing themselves in a wild jam that included guitarist Jake Cinninger’s impromptu riffing on the “25 or 6 to 4” solo by the band Chicago.
By the time the 20 minute take on “Utopian” wrapped, they slowly eased the music into a roaring cover of The Talking Heads’ “Making Flippy Floppy”. Check it out below:
Following “Flippy Floppy” Umphrey’s took their only real pause of the second set before continuing on until the end, averaging about ten minutes each for the final three songs of the second set: “Tribute To The Spinal Shaft” > “Conduit” > “Make It Right”.
For the encore, the band exited the stage briefly, only to make an audible on the set list: instead of closing the special evening with their most-played monster of a song, “All In Time” like the set list noted, they decided to treat the audience to a 14 minute “Divisions”.
Many fans were clamoring for Umphrey’s to return to one of the few Grateful Dead tunes they have played in the past, or even a new one, given the venue. But with the absence of Lesh in preparation for a gig in New York the next day, the band chose to do what they do best and threw one hell of a rock show for some of their closest friends.