Review: Umphrey’s McGee at the Crystal Ballroom, 3/7/14

Review by Regan Crisp
Photos by Jordan Inglee,

Umphreys McGee - Crystal Ballroom - 3-7-2014  (16 of 81) (1024x576)Umphrey’s McGee’s current tour schedule is an epic, sprawling thing, with stops in Chattanooga, TN, London, and Rochester, N.Y., and part of this year’s tour bills Umphrey’s with the bluesy California Honeydrops. On Friday, March 7, the Honeydrops’ soulful, rootsy stylings, usually steal-the-stage memorable, were an appetizer (and a short one at that) for Umphrey’s lauded stage show, with its usual cast of virtuosic musicians, dreamy lights, and genre-bending jams. Last weekend’s Portland performance was the band’s first Crystal Ballroom gig in three years, and more than just a chance to dust off last summer’s rage stick and pass the vape under the chandeliers, it was an example of the band in highest form- despite the intervening years (Umphrey’s turns 17 this year). Umphreys McGee - Crystal Ballroom - 3-7-2014  (39 of 81) (683x1024)

Heavier than the Grateful Dead and without the goofiness of Phish, Umphrey’s might invite similar crowds to its forebears but in truth, their sound is unique. The band guarantees two eventualities on their website: “You never know what you are going to get,” and “Umphrey’s always delivers.” But while they draw comparisons to bands using similar techniques- improvisation, complex compositions, setlists sprinkled with creative covers- Umphrey’s have carefully carved a category all their own, characterized by ample percussion (two kits) and Jake Cinninger’s shredding guitar. Umphrey’s take the jam band genre into a broader, louder spectrum, one drawing heavily on classic 70s rock, and particularly the prog genre. In a day and age (and town) where classic prog usually takes a back seat to more accessible rock, and jam bands offering lighter listening, Umphrey’s offers a breath of fresh air.

Umphreys McGee - Crystal Ballroom - 3-7-2014  (9 of 81) (1024x683)At the Crystal Ballroom the music spilled effortlessly through a captivating light show by Umphrey’s L.D.-in-residence Jefferson Waful. It’s easy to get lost in the Umphrey’s show of light and sound, no matter who you are. Deadheads, Tool fans, musicians and those simply looking for a good party unite under the Umphrey’s banner, and it’s clear why. Their music straddles a fine line between dancey and dark, memorable and hypnotizing. Umphrey’s opened the night with “Le Blitz,” a tune only recently integrated into their live shows, but quickly moved into fan favorites like “Much Obliged,” “Dump City,” and “The Linear.” The first set worked the crowd, warming the room up to a fever pitch, but it was the second set that set the band’s energy loose. Umphreys McGee - Crystal Ballroom - 3-7-2014  (13 of 81) (622x1024)

After a brief break, the band moved into “Plunger,” beautifully into “Hajimemashite,” and back into “Plunger.” While Waful’s designs left a rainbow hue on the band during the first set, in the second set Umphrey’s met a heavenly white bath, that, as the band pulled further from melodic and into metal, turned back to neon bright. And metal Umphrey’s did- but only after catalyzing a chaotic dance party by bringing out The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah.” Cinninger’s versatile vocals transitioned easily to Joe Strummer’s, just as the band’s sound teases at groups like Phish, Yes, Rush, Tool and Metallica.

Umphreys McGee - Crystal Ballroom - 3-7-2014  (45 of 81) (1024x683)Umphrey’s closed out the night with a raw, thrashy “Pay The Snucka,” leaving adrenaline, excitement and sweat brimming when the house lights doused the sold-out crowd. Umphrey’s are a band deft at pleasing many, and, even more impressively, with ample headbanging on the side.

Correction: This article previously incorrectly stated that Brendan Bayless sang “Rock the Casbah,” when it was in fact Jake Cinninger. We apologize for the error. 



Setlist, Umphrey’s McGee
Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Set I:
Le Blitz>
Bright Lights, Big City
Much Obliged>
White Pickle (w/Star Wars theme tease)
No Diablo
Dump City
The Linear>
Miss Tinkle’s Overture

Set II:
Rock the Casbah
Puppet String

E: Pay the Snucka

Umphrey’s McGee at the Crystal Ballroom, 3/7/14
Photos by Jordan Inglee,


Author: Kara

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