Umphrey’s McGee hurtles jam fans into outer space

Kurt Johnson / Tahoe Onstage

Jam band giant Umphrey’s McGee lights up Lake Tahoe’s MontBleu Theatre on March 11, 2017.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Kurt E. Johnson

Jamband titans Umphrey’s McGee came to the South Shore Friday night and packed the MontBleu Theatre with monstrous interstellar rock and a vibrant crowd of Ump cosmonauts ready for the ride.

The main floor of the casino was filled with a buzzing swarm of festy hippies, party-hardy 40-somethings and mountain folk all ready to drop the stresses of their week for a night of Umphrey’s McGee. The six-piece band has been face-melting royalty for much of its 18-year career and its concerts play out like sonic odysseys across prog-rock, funk, drum and bass, electronica and whatever else the band is feeling that night.

Having played in South Lake before in 2016 and 2013, the atmosphere was crackling like wildfire in anticipation for another memorable night of music. Friday was also the beginning of a star-studded week of concerts around the lake that will also see New Orleans sensation Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, funk megastars Lettuce and jamband legends String Cheese Incident play before it is all said and done. Umphrey’s McGee was a perfect choice to kick off the proceedings.

Kurt Johnson / Tahoe Onstage

Drummer Kris Meyers and the handy bassist Ryan Stasik.

Jake Cinninger (guitar), Brendan Bayliss (guitar), Joel Cummins (keyboards), Kris Meyers (drums), Andy Farag (percussion) and Ryan Stasik (bass) took the stage with little flash and immediately hooked into their instruments and tuned up with the stoic grit of space explorers gearing up for a launch into the great beyond. To warm up the rockets, the band opened with the brooding “Tango Mike,” a treat of an intro that has only been performed 16 times in the band’s career. When the ignition sequence hit zero, Umphrey’s roared into the prog-outlaw country jam “Phil’s Farm” and the night officially blasted off. Bayliss led the group with an off-kilter prog jam that eventually delved into a heady metal abyss.

The Ump kept the shape-shifting grooves with a reflective “Piranhas” which naturally flowed into the night’s first highlight, a gargantuan “Blue Echo.” Cinninger and Bayliss tossed back and forth amorphous solos that permeated through a groove that felt like digital paint droplets mixing together. Cinninger’s musicianship was flexed when he then joined Cummins on keyboards and all six members waded in an aqueous jam marked by fine, staccato slices from Bayliss’ axe. The first set ended with a bat-out-of-hell “Hot For Teacher” and “Wizard Burial Ground” that showcased Meyers’ pounding authority behind the kit.

What was so impressive about Umphrey’s McGee over the course of its two-and-a-half hour show was the depth of its musical prowess. The six musicians add so many interlocking layers to their songs and extended adventures that the wall of sound coming at you is always immense, if not at times overwhelming. Stasik, Meyers and Farag’s precise rhythms lay the groundwork for the staggering syncopated melodies of Cinninger, Bayliss and Cummins. The technical jams certainly don’t slow the band down, either, as it is always operating at maximum energy levels.

The second set opened with a massive run of “Plunger,” “Uncommon” and “Miami Virtue” that spanned a half-hour and saw the band dip into wonky funk, searing prog-rock and dance-tronica. It left the crowd with a jet-stream hangover that was immediately remedied by the  levity of “August,” whose soothing melody rolled over fans like a summer night. The band dedicated the nostalgic “Golden Years” to friends who had married by the lake the previous year and carried the good times over into a bubbling reggae of “FF.”

Umphrey’s closed down Tahoe with fan favorite “Sociable Jimmy” and a thrilling “Remind Me” whose memorable house-of-mirrors jam was shattered in an explosive finale. It was quite the finish to an unforgettable night, another trip to far-away musical galaxies for Umphrey’s McGee.

-Garrett Bethmann

Related story: Spafford rises from Phoenix.

  • Umphrey’s McGee
    MontBleu Theatre, Stateline, Nevada
  • Set 1
    Tango Mike
    Phil’s Farm
    Blue Echo
    Speak Up
    Dear Lord
    The Crooked One
    Hot for Teacher (Van Halen)
    Wizard Burial Ground
  • Set 2
    Miami Virtue
    Golden Years (David Bowie)
    Sociable Jimmy
  • Encore
    Remind Me

To see all of Kurt Johnson’s photos from the show, visit his website.

Kurt Johnson

Joel Cummins plays keyboards, loves the world champion Chicago Cubs.

Kris Meyers on percussion.

Andy Farag on percussion.

7 Umphrey's McGee 10 5 Umphrey's McGee 9 6 Umphrey's McGee 13

About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

One comment

  1. Beautiful lead in shot at the top!

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