If you believe what a crowd wears to a concert is a good indicator of the band’s vibe, then you’ll know why I was pleased to see so much tie-dye at the Red Butte Garden Amphitheater for the Umphrey’s McGee show on Sunday Aug. 5, 2019. Umphrey’s McGee attracted a younger, rowdier than average crowd to Red Butte, with at least three people drunk enough to tear their shirts off (See: “Shirtless Guy” on our Concert Bingo Scorecard) before the music even started. Unsurprisingly, a dopey haze floated throughout the venue as well. (Another Concert Bingo score!)
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The opening act, Baltimore-based Pigeons Playing Ping Pong (band site here), kicked things off promptly with their funkadelic collection of strong bass lines, danc-ey riffs, and Zappa-esqe vocals. Between the screaming guitar solos and groovy breaks, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong used elaborate melodies and high energy singing to keep things lively. With most of the band giddy and animatedly grooving to their own music it was hard not to dance along and indeed most of the crowd decided to do that very thing.
It was so hot that Red Butte had decided to start madly fanning mist onto the stage for the bands. In turn, Pigeons playing Ping Pong were totally keeping their cool, linking groovy riffs, elaborate melodies, and funky singing into tight songs.
After a brief intermission, and with both their drummer and percussionist caged in huge arrays of cymbals, their keyboardist ringed by at least six keyboards, and a trippy light show blazing from the rigging above, Umphrey’s McGee launched into a heavy set of guitar solos and thundering rhythms. Guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss frequently traded bars as the rest of the band grooved on tempo changes and syncopated rhythms. Umphrey’s McGee like to use strong dynamic shifts in most of their songs, mixing stringy rhythmic breaks with heavy head pounding riffage, and this was their style throughout the night as they rocked out. The highlight of it all, however, had to be Cinninger’s ridiculous guitar chops, as he wreaked carnage over his fret board with every screaming solo.
Umphrey’s McGee is a highly technical band that specializes in lightning fast guitar licks, tight rhythmic kicks, and many overlapping voices. This level of technical precision is hard to pull off live and counts on a great sound engineer at the board. Did it work at Red Butte? Well… not quite. While Umphrey’s McGee did an excellent job controlling the energy of their songs, and while there were more than a couple breathtaking moments, the open-air amphitheater was not exactly conducive to the precise acoustics the band needed. At the end of more than a few songs, I was left feeling the mix was a bit soupier than the band had hoped for.
But the tie-dyed, red-eyed crowd cared not. Umphrey’s McGee gave them the show they wanted. A jam-heavy set with frugal use of vocals, radical light effects, and intoxicating bass lines pulled them (and me) into the groove time and time again. The crowd ate it up, still dancing with enthusiasm even as the band played well into a second hour. At some point, glow sticks and a beach ball started flying through the air (more Concert Bingo scores), and then a final, face-melting guitar solo brought an end to the show and Red Butte unleashed its crowd of drunken students and next-gen hippies onto the upper university campus.
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