Umphrey’s McGee was an easy prediction as the Chicago anchor for Green Apple Music Festival, not too surprising considering it’s their hometown. And not to mention the fact that the band’s management helped to bring the festival to the city — above and beyond last year’s inaugural festival in New York City.
On Saturday night, the band lined up a sold-out gig at the Vic Theater, complete with the BandFan youngsters and heads standing out front groveling for tickets and/or money. I sort of spaced on lining up tickets myself but MH Publicity came through at the last minute — and get this, they even floated me a VIP Pass to the show that allowed me the coveted, privileged front balcony spots usually reserved for the band’s family. I’m extremely grateful for that and it made this concert experience one for the memory books.
Once the house lights came down and the band came out, the place just exploded with energy. They opened with “JaJunk,” definitely a fun and rocking opener, and I always enjoy the clickity-clacks coming from Andy Farag and the percussion rig.
Overall, the first set was simply a really interesting segment of music. It really highlighted the various sides of the band — “JaJunk” being the nasty, “Divisions” the melodic, “Got Your Milk (Right Here)” the anthemic and comical, “Nothing Too Fancy” the techno, “Syncopated Strangers” the classic. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a full-fledged jamband headlining show and I think I forgot how wild the crowds can become, for Umphrey’s or for anyone else really.
Here’s a little clip from the intro of “Nothing Too Fancy” and I’d suggest watching it if you ever want a sense for the energy that the fans exude, especially to this song…
The second set was an all-out jamfest, which actually featured some sit-ins from some of the other idols within the scene. The band really came out rockin’ hard after “Pay the Snucka,” the band’s theme song. They ended up sandwiching a “Dr. Feelgood” jam into the middle of “Der Bluten Kat,” a trick that only Umphrey’s could pull off.
Once they got to “The Triple Wide,” everyone’s favorite dance-along, I noticed Brendan waving offstage to some buddies of his. It turned out that Michael Kang, the mandolin player for the soon-to-be-defunct String Cheese Incident, was in town and he joined the band on stage by replacing Jake Cinninger. Aron Magner from the Disco Biscuits also came out, and he replaced Joel on keys. Let the wankfest begin.
I didn’t even know the band finished all the songs that they hadn’t finished from the earlier set until I went back and read the setlist. That’s the power that this band has, and they’ve clearly taken a few cues from the Disco Biscuits and their well-known ability to take a song/set/concert and turn it upside down and inside out. The encore was great but the best part of the show came shortly before that…
There was some activity in the balcony across the venue from the box I was in, and all of a sudden a beer bong descends from the upper balcony down to stage left. This actually completed an Umphrey’s McGee full-circle moment for me…
The first time I saw the band was New Year’s Eve 2003 at the Vic — and at that show (which was the last time the full band played that venue), Brendan did a beer bong from that same balcony.
Clearly they planned that one out well in advance and someone reminded the guys that the beer bong needed to resurface — and the crowd was sure happy it did.
04/21/07 Vic Theatre, Chicago, IL
Green Apple Music and Arts Festival
Set I: JaJunk> Divisions> Got Your Milk (Right Here), Nothing Too Fancy> The Haunt> Padgett’s Profile> Syncopated Strangers
Set II: Pay the Snucka, Der Bluten Kat> Hajimemashite> Dr. Feelgood> Der Bluten Kat> The Triple Wide*> Nothing Too Fancy#> Divisions> Pay the Snucka
Encore: Band on the Run> JaJunk
* Michael Kang (String Cheese Incident) replacing Jake and Aron Magner (Disco Biscuits) replacing Joel
# Allen Aucoin (Disco Biscuits) on additional percussion
Thanks for the good times, Umphrey’s — you still make me feel all funny inside and I’m hugely proud to call myself a fan.