What better way to consecrate Independence Day than rejoicing in our independence? Umphrey’s McGee united us all this weekend — beginning on July 5 and ending on July 7 — 303 Magazine was fortunate enough to attend the first two nights of this notorious three-night run. This past weekend was Umphrey’s ninth summer in a row headlining the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and we think it’s safe to say that after nine years — Umph weekend at Red Rocks has become a holiday in it of itself.
Accompanied by Lotus, Papadosio and The Record Company— bands who usually exist as main acts — Umphrey’s did an excellent job of collaborating with these opener’s to make each night its own cohesive and unique concert. Night one began with Lotus — an instrumental electronic jam-band that was well received by the eager Umphrey’s fans. Lotus made sure to start the weekend off on the right foot with an upbeat set of some of their most popular electronic-dance-rock tracks, such as “The Age of Inexperience” which closed out the set right at sunset.
Umphrey’s made their way to the stage with “There’s No Crying in Mexico” — creating a slow build that eventually exploded into a full-blown tidal wave of movement that washed over the crowd. The intelligence of their transitions and precision of their builds can best be described as a fractal — beginning in the beat of Kris Meyer’s and Andy Farag’s percussions and then eventually spiraling out into the far-off sounds of Joel Cummins keys. Like a continuous breath — constantly in flux but never ending — we surrendered to Umphrey’s manipulation as they moved us into night two.
Papadosio started off the second night on an ambient note — sticking to some of their more meandering ballad material. It wasn’t exactly cohesive with the vibe Umphrey’s was trying to provide but luckily this gave the crowd some downtime before getting down to McGee. Imitating progressive-rock bands like Pink Floyd and Mahavishnu Orchestra, we didn’t seem to notice the end of one set as we were carried effortlessly into the next. Similarly, this was the theme of Friday’s set — we got an entire night that felt like one undivided journey, uniting us all in our love for Umphrey’s.
After this weekend, there’s no question that they have earned their reputation as one of the most musically dexterous groups in the progressive jam scene. Known for their mashups and ability to cover timeless tracks without criticism, Umphrey’s blew us away with their Pink Floyd cover that combined Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh” and “Another Brick in the Wall” with Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” It was a mashup never heard until that weekend — the crowd went absolutely bonkers. And just when we thought they couldn’t get more creative with their cover songs — Friday night came with their acclaimed track “Come Closer” featuring an exceptional spin on The Beatles’ song “Come Together” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” Their mashups are unlike anything in the jam-band world — bringing depth and metaphor through the compatibility of two artists that would seem to never agree.
Umphreys’ weekend at Red Rocks affirmed that they are far from “Bridgeless.” On the contrary — they are building a bridge meant to mend the quarrel of what jam bands should be. In this weekend’s creative commitment to collaboration — we saw a blend of playful pop and heavy metal, freeing funk and contained vocals, easeful jazz fusion and screaming guitar rambles. We saw a pledge to the balance of concentration and improvisation with their impressive light show — where we were able to see visually the way this band can skillfully create chaos and consistency at once. Umphrey’s thoughtfulness was made clear this weekend and gave fans a deeper sense of their artistry and intentionality.