Road Trip Recap: Umphrey’s McGee in Atlanta 12/28 – 12/31

By Adam Johnson

Fans of the jam scene will often talk of going to a show as an experience. They will recount their experience in a way that conveys a deeper connection. Every show is special- meaningful in its own unique way. We discuss the band with the pageantry that rivals only the most loyal Alabama/Auburn fans. We “geek” out on how a setlist was engineered. We will spend hours studying how “this one song” played at “this venue” is nuanced in a way that you can understand only if you were there. Our passions overflowing- this is my story about my NYE run. 

My first Umphrey’s show was New Year’s Eve 2010 in Chicago. It is only fitting that my 50th would be a New Year’s Eve show as well. The four-night Atlanta run started strong and set the bar high. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Umphrey’s set the stage for a NYE run that would have a long list of epic bustouts, teases, debuts, collaborations and set several records for the band. More on that later… 

Night one highlights:

Set one- Higgins, August 

Set two- Bridgeless (unfinished), Much Obliged, Time (Pink Floyd cover) 

Encore: In the Kitchen (unfinished), finish Bridgeless 

There’s something about the Tabernacle that makes for a great “Higgins.” This “Higgins” would be no exception to the rule. Set two opened with a strong “Bridgeless” and was left unfinished as they morphed into “Example 1.” No Umphrey’s show is complete without Waful’s artistry. Without his light show, the show just isn’t the same. Night one would be a special night for the senses as Waful’s turned the Tabernacle into a life-sized snow globe and a blanket of fog so thick you almost had to climb your way through it. The Encore put a nice cap on the night as we were treated to a four-night cliffhanger with “In The Kitchen.” As we continued to breathe in the open-minded air, the band finished the night by revisiting “Bridgeless” that was left unfinished from the set two-opener. 

Night two was an interesting evening. While some songs seemed abbreviated at times, the jams from the evening were tight and long. Stasik, Kris and Andy seemed to be exploring quite a bit and were really in sync. Despite some debate over whether a couple of jams were stopped short, they featured highlights from each band member at one point or another. 

Night two highlights:

Set one- 2 x 2, Band on the Run (Paul McCartney and Wings cover- bustout tune with a 781 show gap) 

Set two- Wappy Sprayberry, YYZ (Rush cover, bustout tune with a 324 show gap) 

The “2×2” was one for the Hall of Fame in my opinion. At times the band produced a groove so hypnotic, the crowd made the entire venue shake. I’m a sucker for a good cover tune and the first set cover of Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” brought a smile to everyone’s face. Newcomers and avid followers had something to celebrate with the bustout of this one. You can’t deny the pull of “Wappy”- it’s a personal favorite for me. The mix of trance-like grooves, metal crunch, happy up-beat dance sounds and plenty of space for each member of the band (Waful’s included) to explore. We were also treated to another bustout, and cover tune when they guys played Rush’s “YYZ” and nailed it. 

Night three was such a unique, special night for me! I think this night alone will go down as a top five for sure. Just when you thought they couldn’t do something “new,” they proved you wrong with an original 

trick up their sleeve. From the design of the set-list, to the collaborations, each song seemed to provide a special touch, making for a most magical evening. 

Night three highlights:

Set one- 1348 opener with long jam and left unfinished, Utopian Fir with Genesis tease, Made to Measure (only my second time to see this one) with Jeff Coffin on sax, Virtual Insanity (Jamiroquai cover- this one is very special to me- in addition to it being unique to me, it’s the first time UM covered Jamiroquai and, they had Jeff Coffin on sax, Cory Wong on guitar and Jake on keys) 

Set two- Ocean Billy, Can’t Rock my Dream Face (only second time played and bustout with a 281 show gap), All in Time set closer 

Encore- Triple Wide (also another very special tune) and 1348 finished in the encore 

Walking away from the venue from night three was a bit surreal. So many highlights packed into one night. Usually you get all of that over the course of a 3-night run. UM packs all of that into one night! How can you not be hooked and begging for more? 

Night four, New Year’s Eve marked a milestone for me! Show number 50! I woke up bright and early that day and felt like a kid on Christmas Eve. Counting down the minutes until showtime all day. Reminding myself, this is what I need. 

Before I cover the highlights, I need to explain something. My connection to music started at an early age. Some of my favorite memories as a kid are when we would spend all night listening to tapes and watching mom play Pac-Man on Nintendo. She took me to my first concert, INXS. It was the “Kick” tour. We would listen to that particular tape over and over while she would play Nintendo. I lost my mom in 1989- she was 36. Several weeks ago, I had a dream that I met Umphrey’s and shared my story with them. In my dream we were hanging out I asked if they would please play an INXS song for her. They sort of laughed it off and left it as a “we’ll see.” That was only in my dream of course and not in real life. I have a personal philosophy not to request a song from a band. Rather to trust the music and let the set-list create the experience it’s supposed to. Trust the band. 

Night four highlights:

Set one- Cemetery Walk II into Cemetery Walk (first time they’ve reversed the order of these two), Roundabout (Yes cover and bustout 311 show gap) 

Set two- Draconian, Whistle Kids (Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret on horns), Looks (Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret on horns and Dr. Feelgood jam/lyrics) 

Set three- Hurt Bird Bath, In The Kitchen (finish from night one), Booth Love (Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret on horns), What You Need (INXS cover, first time ever playing INXS, Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret on horns) 

Encore- The encore could be a stand-alone show honestly. Mad Dog and his Filthy Little Secret started up in the balcony while the band took the stage. The band and MDFLS took a band-vs-horns battle and played: with In the Mood (Glenn Miller), The Ocean (Led Zeppelin), Voodoo Child (Jimi Hendrix), So Fresh, So Clean (Outkast), Donna Lee (Charlie Parker), and Unskinny Bop (Poison), then they went into Hajimemashite into Detroit Rock City (KISS cover and bustout with a 674 show gap). 

Umphrey’s MCGee will be back on tour when they kick off the “Wax On, Wax Off” tour in Richmond, Va. on January 11.