Slay What? The Return of Umphrey’s McGee to Philadelphia [Review]

This past Saturday, Umphrey’s McGee made their debut at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby right on the cusp of Philadelphia, and they brought Dopapod with them to join in on the fun. Apparently the band took this debut very seriously, as they put on what many long-time fans agreed was one of their best live performances to date.

First of all, getting to see any band at the Tower is a treat, especially if you are an audiophile. The historic theatre was constructed in 1940 in the Art Moderne Deco style, and the gorgeous architecture inside quickly betrays its roots. It underwent huge renovations after closing down in the mid-‘90s and saw serious upgrades in its sound system before it reopened in the mid-‘00s. In my opinion, it puts Philly’s beloved cement cavern known as the Electric Factory to shame, even after factoring in the Tower’s seats (which have the potential to obstruct the ability to dance). Luckily, the floor at the Tower was General Admission for UM’s show, and the orchestra pit seats had been removed. Room to dance for all! Always a plus.

 

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When I approached the stage for Dopapod’s set, there weren’t many people on the floor. I initially worried that far too many would skip the band’s performance to either continue tailgating in the parking lot or relax in the seats in the back, but I was pleasantly surprised when I turned around during their first song and saw nothing but heads bobbing. Opening for a band such as Umphrey’s McGee is somewhat of a double-edged sword – most musicians in the scene, including the guys in Dopapod, would love to check this off their bucket list, but in such circumstances fans are often left begging for more. Those new to the band and loyal followers alike commented that they wish they could have seen more, but Dopapod played a rock-solid set of four of their bigger hits that quickly warmed the crowd up for the rest of the evening. The tracks chosen featured the diversity of their sound, the classical training out of which the band was founded, and their steadfast commitment to improv and pushing their boundaries. The only disappointment of the set was that it ended after forty-five minutes.

 

 

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It was then time for Umphrey’s McGee. They hadn’t hit Philly since last August, and the City of Brotherly Love was certainly ready. From the opening measures to the final notes of the encore, the energy that filled the Tower was mind-boggling. During “Mulche’s Odyssey” there was a moment when the crowd got so incredibly into the music that I could feel the floor moving beneath me as a turbulent sea of people rocked as one to the beat. I heard both strangers and known Umphreaks (the band’s hardcore fans) alike comment that it was one of the best versions of the song they had ever heard. It would have come as no surprise to have seen crowd surfing and mosh pits during this one. At one point later in the set, one girl attempted to surf during a particularly heavy metal-infused moment, though it seemed she was quickly thwarted by security.

During the second set, when the band went back into “In the Kitchen” to finish off the song, which they had started early on in the first set, fans roared. The encore, “Puppet Strings” into “Glory” and back into “Puppet Strings,” met with equal enthusiasm from the crowd. Never before have there been so many pinky fingers in the air (and if you don’t understand this reference, add this to the list of reasons you should try to catch Umphrey’s McGee the next time they stop in your town). The improv unleashed during this set was remarkable, and noted even by long-time fans notoriously difficult to impress. The teases of classical works and famous American heritage songs (I was particularly fond of the nod to Mozart during “Der Bluten Kat”) dispel any and all talk that Umphrey’s is mere “hippie metal.” Umphrey’s McGee surely has created a signature fusion of sounds that heavily incorporates both prog rock and metal, but their repertoire goes far beyond that and cannot be described in such simplistic terms. The band surely showed the breadth of their range during this performance.

All in all, the band’s Tower debut was a success. They chose a fantastic opener whose musical diversity complemented UM’s diversity beautifully. Both bands laid it on thick with the improv, sprinkling in surprises while giving fans some of their beloved favorites, and left little room for complaints. Dopapod is scheduled to appear with UM on several more occasions, including a Halloween show in Boston, MA. Check out both bands’ tour schedules at the following links: Dopapod, and Umphrey’s McGee.

 

 

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