Saturday, March 18, on the second night of Umphrey's McGee's two-night residency at the Egyptian Room, the once South Bend-based group proved itself deserving of mention up there with rock's best improvisational/jam bands.
With no opening act needed, Umphrey's came out on stage to fans that had been cheering since they walked in the door. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a festival, with smells of alcohol drifting prior to the show joined by the pungent scent of marijuana as soon as the lights turned down. In addition, many fans lounged on the floor in the usually standing-room-only venue before the band took the stage.
Eavesdropping on some conversations before the show, it occurred to me that many of Umphrey's fans seem have a common unity. Talks of Summer Camps past (guitarist Jake Cinninger referred to this Illinois event as being his favorite festival of the summer in my telephone conversation with him), legendary show counts (one fellow I chatted with claimed his friend had been to nearly 100 Umphrey's shows over the years) and the band's mashup of "Thriller" and "Another Brick in the Wall" the night before.
During their first set of songs, the band rarely sang: The set consisted of incredible instrumental improvisations (made possible by on-stage baseball cues and backstage planning), slow-burning song-length builds usually concluding with the entire band going crazy their respective instruments. The band ended its first set with an incredible rendition of the 11-minute masterpiece "Mantis," featured on the band's latest studio release. I was thoroughly impressed the spectacular light show that accompanied Umphrey's McGee's explosive style.
The band took a well-deserved 30-minute intermission before returning to the stage to play its second set, then returned with just as much energy to continue through a wide collection songs spanning the band's entire 12 year career. I found a brief mid-song transition into AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" especially entertaining.
The band played "The Floor" for an encore, a six minute song that seemed quite short alongside the band's near three hour total performance. Either way, fans left just as they'd entered, still collectively cheering as they exited the venue.