Umphrey's McGee | The Wiltern Theatre

Article Contributed by Joshua Huver | Published on Saturday, April 1, 2017

On Saturday, March 18, the improvisational-jam based and progressive aggressive styling of Umphrey’s McGee returned to the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles for the third time in as many years.

The six-piece rock and roll band, which consists of dual lead guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, dual percussion and rhythm masters Andy Farag and Kris Meyers, keyboard wizard Joel Cummins and bassist Ryan Stasik, have lately chosen to end their once-a-year jaunt through the West Coast in Los Angeles, giving it a pseudo-bump up in thrill as the tour closer. This year, however, with one more date to go, Umphrey’s McGee proved that while some days may stand out more than others, they more often than not will rise to the occasion and leave concert-goers on cloud 9.

Spafford, a hot up and coming four-piece from nearby Arizona, opened the show right on time with a five-song setlist that filled their hour-long slot. Kicking things off with Andrew “Red” Johnson’s namesake tune “Red's Jam” and carried the momentum of a rowdy and dedicated fanbase – Spaffnerds, to be exact – into the favorite “In The Eyes of Thieves.” After taking a page out of the Grateful Dead’s playbook circa 1977 with “Back Door Funk”, the instrumental quartet put a unique spin on “Soul To Squeeze”, originally by the local Los Angeles legends the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Spafford has been on tour with and opening for Umphrey’s nearly every date on their 2017 tour so far and by the time tour made it from New York back to their home turf in the Southwest, word had spread that Spafford was an opener worth arriving early for and they have been a consistent hit all winter long.

But the main event of course, takes precedence. As Spafford demonstrated their hyper-awareness to location with the RHCP song choice, Umphrey’s took a subtler route that they expanded on more completely on Twitter. Opening with “You Got The Wrong Guy” and segueing straight away into the crushingly poignant and outrageously furious “Remind Me”, the corresponding song announcement from @umphreys also featured a meme of Jeff Bridges in the Los Angeles-based film “The Big Lebowski” talking back and from the toilet to the ill-informed nihilists sent to win a ransom. Well played, Team UM.

About halfway through the 13 minute “Remind Me”, right before the song takes a sinister turn, Cinninger teased The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby,” a theme that they would later expand upon. Next, Cummins and Cinninger took turns running the lead through a standalone “Cemetary Walk”. Check out pro-shot footage below:

What followed was easily one of the highlights of not only the evening, but of the entire West Coast run in the form of a 17-minute “Nemo”. A 4-minute song on 2006’s Safety In Numbers, maybe 9 when taken for the rare ride during a setlist, featured two distinct jam sections beginning with a massive and inspired dance groove from Cummins and Meyers then slipped into a call and response reminiscent of “Gents”, will a little more of the “Eleanor Rigby” teases as well. Following the drop back into the second half of the composed song, the entire room needed the “Room To Breathe” that came next, even if the room was pitch black and devilish.

“Made To Measure” from 2009’s Mantis featured a West LA style hip hop jam. At the beginning of the jam there was a very dub-heavy transition around Cummins’ staccato and sharp key progressions. Farag’s ear for the waves in the beat gave Stasik plenty of wiggle room before Cinninger rounded everything back up and pushed the band into the set closer, “Ocean Billy”. Always a monster track, this particular “Billy” felt like it ended a bit premature, but we’ll blame that on how fun “Nemo” and “Made To Measure” were – They also completely scrapped the dance party reprise “Cemetary Walk 2” from the set, likely due to time constraints.

The second set was a six-song assault of electronic dance, hard rock and classic, uplifting favorites all topped off with a David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” to cap a truly memorable set – each song was stretched out and given room to air out. Only the Bowie cover and “Rocker Part 2” fell beneath the 10-minute mark.

The lights went down just before 11PM and the set opened with “The Triple Wide”, straying from the sonic dance party that the tune usually fosters in lieu of a much darker theme than the enigmatic lights of Jefferson Waful would have you believe. Cummins once again shined in a playful back and forth with Cinninger as each took turns wrestling with the lead.

The blazing guitar fill that is the intro for “Mulche’s Odyssey” cut through a wandering segue and for the next 13 minutes provided a heavy, head-banging

release for the audience. Some fans with a sharp ear commented on the distinct similarity in the jam and a jam that they have favored over the last New Year’s Eve runs before slipping into one of the band’s deepest cuts, “August” off their debut album Greatist Hits: Volume III.

Bayliss took control of the reins for the majority of the remainder of the set, beginning with a hard-stop into a beautiful and melodic solo with the right amount of tasteful shredding in the middle of “August”. A strong segue into The London Session’s “Rocker Part 2” followed. When the song was recorded at Abbey Road in London, the band opted to place an oft-repeated “Jimmy Stewart” into the solo/outro section. While it is not always associated with “Rocker Part 2” the tune at The Wiltern gave way to the same repeated stew with a bit of gusto.

A 15-minute standalone “Higgins” off of 2007’s The Bottom Half cemented the monstrous stature of the song choice for the evening, and the celebratory take on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” at the end of the set gave everybody a second wind to get down with.

There weren’t any especially rare tracks or major cover bust-outs at The Wiltern but every song they played they gave their undivided attention to – even down to the stand-alone encore of “In The Kitchen”, a track that rarely goes more than six shows without a spot on the set list. Some jams got cut short and some songs didn’t make the cut at all, but among the songs that did there is plenty for everyone to enjoy.