Tortoise brings the noise, Umphrey’s McGee brings the Jumbotron

Umphrey's McGee, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

I’ve spent many a holiday with Umphrey’s McGee over the past couple years, so it’s always a schedule possibility for me when I see that they announced another three-night stand in Chicago at the Aragon (for the third year in a row). I especially jumped at the opportunity to see them last night, Dec. 30, because I saw that Tortoise was slated to be the opener. I bought my ticket months ago. That’s one killer lineup and I jumped on the opportunity to come back and see the band I’ve seen more than any other for the second time this year. And Tortoise for like the fifth time. That’s devotion to both…

So Tortoise was the opener, so last night was my first major jamband show in a while and I’m not sure how down I am with that whole scene anymore. Maybe I’m over it, if that wasn’t too obvious already given my path of musical appreciation over the past year or so. Maybe their fans really are young and you can feel it when you’re there. But I still went to have a good time and a good time I had. That’s really all that matters and that’s really what most jambands promise and deliver these days – an escape from the normal, responsible lives that most live day-to-day. Especially right around the turn of the new year…


Tortoise, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

Tortoise started right around 7:05pm and I got there about 10 minutes after that. They played a good 45 minutes on my watch, and it was damn impressive even considering that I’ve seen them twice this year already. The sound was very good where I was standing, as I went up as far as I could go without having to take my jacket off due to overheating. It was light up there and people weren’t too into the band at every moment — I’m sure it can be slightly droney to some at times — but I was digging every second of it.

I’ve been living with this band on my iPod Shuffle for the past couple months. It’s the perfect music for riding the EL for me. No lyrics. Tons of changes and swirls and hypnotic rhythms. I love it. And live is no exception, and they blow you away just watching these guys switch instruments and really play with a nice wall of sound to get noisy and experimental (even though it’s calculated — I don’t think they improvise really at all with their song structure). Still, I have tons of fun watching them and I really hope they can book some solid dates in 2008 at festivals and other shows around the country. Someone shouted from the crowd and said, “Tour more! West Coast!” He really meant it, you could hear it in his voice.

Tortoise, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

Tortoise, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

Tortoise, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

Tortoise, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

Tortoise, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

A DJ was spinning during the set-break and I have no clue who he was, so they had the lights going all around the venue with some techno beats blaring in the background. Two disco balls, too.

Aragon Ballroom

DJ Spinning During Setbreak

So this DJ — this guy was dancing all wild and hyped up to his own beats, and I mean, I can’t really blame him for trying to psych other people up. But I’m also pretty sure I saw some people mocking him that were standing close to me, so that’s a bummer. Maybe he needs to work on his moves a little bit. I thought it was pretty cool, though, whoever he was…

Umphrey's McGee, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

To be honest, there’s not much that Umphrey’s McGee can do that would impress me anymore. These shows are just them totally relaxing and having a killer time playing their favorites and throwing in little quirks for the fans to catch and applaud (like “Slacker”‘s little vocal teases). And for some crazy reason, they busted out a Jumbotron for use so that people can see the band at the back of the room. It feels a little bit like I’m watching a show at the United Center, but it did compliment the lights a little bit last night. Kudos to the band for trying something new there.

As for being impressed, I honestly was ready to conserve my energy for tonight after a lackluster first set. Turns out I missed a doozy of a second set, but oh well — there’s only so much intensity I need in my life at the moment. If you’re feeling satisfied, there’s no reason to commit past that. I was flying solo and my meet-up plans were foiled with no cell service on the iPhone near the front of the stage and I might have been feeling a bit antisocial, especially when this dude I met wanted to hang out with me much to my dismay. John from Madison. He was shitty drunk and he had lost his friends two hours before, but “as long as he takes the red line 18 blocks north, he’ll be cool…” I felt a little bit bad when I ditched him, but I’m sure he’ll understand today when we’ll undoubtedly run into each other at the show again. That’s how these things work. I’m heading back there tonight, so hopefully I’ll have some more shots to share from the festivities.

Umphrey's McGee, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

Umphrey's McGee, 12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom

Last but not least, I managed to snag a little video of this amazing Tortoise tune (not sure on the name); it’s about the last 2:30 minutes of the song. Everyone was all tranced out around me. I’m sure my drunk friend from Madison was losing his friends right around this moment. Their dancing most surely would have gotten out of control.


Tortoise – Jam (12/30/07 Aragon Ballroom) from justinpward on Vimeo.

Good times.

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