February 6th, 2010 is a night that won’t soon be forgotten in the Umphrey’s McGee world. It’s a night that represents so much to the band and it’s fans, but it’s also the night I officially fell in love with Umphrey’s McGee. For the longest time, I procrastinated with this band. Since 2007 I had heard about them and vowed to give their music a shot one of these days. Well, it wasn’t til July 2009 when I finally got my chance to see them open for Dave Matthews Band at Alpine Valley. Needless to say, I was blown away and wanted more, and since this years Halloween run happens to be back at The Tabernacle, I found it fitting to re-visit the last time the band played there. Which brings me to this fateful night in Atlanta.
As the band rolled in on the eve of the Super Bowl, I’m not sure even they knew what to expect. Sure, it was a Saturday night show, but it was on the eve of Super Bowl Sunday in an area the band didn’t play that often. Plus it was The Tabernacle, which rarely sells out, right? No way an out of town band like Umphrey’s McGee can sell out the famous Tabernacle.
Oh wait, they did.
I’m sure that’s when the band knew it was going to be a memorable night. As Andy Farag commented in a pre-show video, “‘Sold-Out’ is the best phrase in the music industry”, and that would not only bode well for the band, but for the fans.
As the lights dimmed and The Tabernacle crowd erupted, I was curious as to what an appropriate opener would be given the environment. All in Time? Wappy Sprayberry? Nope. The Jaws Theme. As the band walked out on stage, The Jaws Theme came in over the PA, and the night went to entirely different level. I’ve had the great pleasure of attending some great sporting events over my lifetime, and I’ve never heard a crowd this loud before. 2600+ people all losing their minds before the band had even played a note.
The true show opener, JaJunk was played at a frantic pace as represented by the amount of energy in the room. The band got the nervous energy out and segued nicely into the always popular, Sociable Jimmy which featured a much slower-tempoed jam before ending. The newest tune to date, Cemetery Walk gave guitarist Jake Cinninger a chance to drop some slide-guitar on us before smoothly leading into the classic Much Obliged. This MO is where the night kicked into yet another gear. The frenetic jam went to an unthinkable peak thanks to drummer Kris Meyers and guitarist Jake Cinninger which sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy. As the song faded out, it led into the always reliable rager, 1348 which served as a launching pad for the rest of the set. The final run of Morning Song, Wife Soup and the end of JaJunk is as good as it gets with a band like Umphrey’s McGee. The goal at the end of every set is to end on a high note. Well, did they ever. The transition out of the complex Wife Soup into the end of JaJunk was certainly going to be a challenge, but they nailed it. The end of WS turns into an absolute arena rock rager that had everyone in the room completely fixated on what was happening on stage. Everyone locked in, from band to fans to crew. Even LD Jefferson Waful was rocking out at his light station. The end of the first set left no doubt that the band was feeling it tonight and it would be one to remember. And of course with Umphrey’s McGee, you can never assume you’ve seen there best- ever.
After a groovy Turn & Dub second set opener, it was time to officially blow the roof off of The Tabernacle. If it was possible to take the show up another notch, it happened with the cover of Clapton’s Layla. From the opening guitar riff, it was pretty much official that all bets were off. The band was going for it all in one night, and this cover couldn’t have been a better choice. Everything in the room seemed perfect that moment. In fact, I thought The Tabernacle floor was going to cave in at one point during Layla. As soon as keyboardist Joel Cummins hit the famous outro that everyone can sing along to, it became about more than the music. Very few bands give you that feeling when you see them, and I got that feeling during this performance and entire show really. The show continues with a stellar Bridgeless sandwich featuring a fun Hangover and the always dancy Wappy Sprayberry in it before finishing out the rager that is Bridgeless. The set ended with the rare Example I into the new instrumental, Cemetery Walk II featuring some great Joel work as usual. The encore included a nod to The Who, who would be performing at the Super Bowl halftime show the next day, with Eminence Front before closing out the epic gig with The Floor.
As I walked out that night, all I could think of was how incredible the show made me feel. I wasn’t worried about the two-hour drive I had back home, or how tired I was going to be for class the next day, or any of that. It was all in the present. Very few bands can do that with just one show, and that’s how I knew Umphrey’s McGee was going to be a mainstay in my yearly concert plans. When certain performances or shows take on a personality of their own and stand alone from anything you’ve ever experienced- that’s special. That’s the stuff that keeps us coming back for more, and that’s why I’ll go see Umphrey’s McGee time after time.
Every show I’ve seen since this night has been a night to remember as well. This show will always stand out for me though, and I believe it stood out for the band as they not only chose to return the next year for Halloween, but also made a three part documentary about that night which you can watch below. As you’ll see from the band, it’s hard to put it into words, so I hope I did it justice for those of you not in attendance. This show is one of the perfect examples of why I (and we) love music, especially live music. When a show gets to that point where it transcends music and turns into an experience, that’s what keeps us coming back, and that’s what Umphrey’s McGee aims to accomplish every time they take the stage. It happened in Atlanta, and it will happen again in a few short months.