Umphrey’s at the Denver Fillmore:
Driving into Denver, CO from the east is one of the most beautiful sights to behold. As you come around the last bend, you see the city with the Rockies in the background and, if you time it just right, the sun setting behind them surrounds Denver with a multi-colored blanket of soft light.
We didn’t time it right. Coming in at 8:00PM after getting delayed for hours by the first big winter storm of the season, one feels somewhat frustrated and rather irritated. Right up until you pull off of the highway onto Park Place. Then, as I remember that I am here for five days for one of the biggest and best musical adventures that New Year’s has to offer, all of a sudden, everything seems right with the world.
Last time I was in Denver, it was for this very same reason – the Umphrey’s McGee New Year’s Run at the Fillmore. In fact, I stayed in the very same hotel, just a couple blocks from the venue. I loved my first visit to Denver, when I was able to witness the legalization of recreational cannabis on my last day in the city. So far, I am enjoying this visit even more, even taking into account the treacherous conditions that preceded my arrival to this fine city. Nope, not even that can put a damper on my yearly vacation to get the Umph.
Walking into the Fillmore last night, I was flooded with a rush of memories from my trip two years prior. I remembered how, on the third night of that run, the night of the very exclusive performance at the 1-Up on Colfax, we couldn’t score tickets (not for a price we were willing to pay, anyway). Instead, we ended up at a house party in Boulder. Good times.
I remembered that this is a place of magic. How else do those chandeliers withstand the sonic assault and not come crashing down on the packed house? I remembered that this is a place of merriment, people wearing smiles, passing out hugs and high-fives. Most of all, I remembered how this place left me feeling more in touch with the rich history of music and performance that this building holds.
This building, which has served as a skating rink, a car factory, boxing, wrestling and UFC arena, a farmer’s market, and has closed and reopened its doors, exchanging hands multiple times since it was built over 100 years ago, hosted its first concert in 1960 with none other than funk legend James Brown. When it was renovated and reopened in 1999, the opening performance was the Trey Anastasio Band. The diversity and caliber of the musical talent that has crossed that stage from the very start is nothing short of amazing and awe-inpiring.
It’s a rich tradition that carries on to this very day. New Year’s Eve is this evening, and Umphrey’s will be taking the stage in a few short hours to help us through the transition into 2016. It is an evening full of promise and opportunity, and probably a few beers. And, if last night says anything, the boys are gonna bring something special tonight (but, don’t they every night?).
I’ll leave the in-depth show review to someone more qualified, like that one guy in the smoking area who can tell you exactly how many times a song has been played live off the top of his head, and who is already convinced by set break of night one that this run just isn’t like it used to be (shut the fuck up, Steve, nobody wants to hear your shit). But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the personal highlights for me.
First, we should give some credit to The Nth Power, a Funk and R&B ensemble that resulted from collaboration at a 3AM jam session at the 2012 New Orleans Jazz Fest. Their sound blends characteristics from many genres, including Gospel, Jazz, Rock and World Beat, tightly wound together to form a seamless performance. They can hold their own in any Jazz or Jam scene, with their musical knowledge and skill equaled by their improvisational prowess. A great way to warm the room up.
Then Umphrey’s came on, and the room exploded immediately.
Who doesn’t like an “Andy’s” opener? When I saw them at the Orbit Room in Grand Rapids, MI a little over a year ago, they also opened with “Andy’s” and it always just seems to set the mood. As is expected, and as it should be, they honored the life and mourned the passing of God, also known as Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister with an interlude into Sliver Machine by Hawkwind, Lemmy’s first band, in the middle of Utopian Fir. (Coincidentally, that same show at the Orbit Room saw them paying tribute to Cream bassist Jack Bruce with an amazing performance of White Room).
After losing my brother during set break, I felt that I should just move on with my life and continue enjoying the evening. He would want it that way. So I did. Kitchen > Upward was especially moving. Then, they tricked me. It seems that I am pretty gullible, because they trick me every time with this. They played a bunch of other stuff before going back into Kitchen to finish it off, and when it started back up, it was like they were saying “Remember?” and every one of us is like “Oh yeah!” (except fucking Steve, who has been taking notes all night, keeping track of song lengths and possible teases in his little brown notebook, and talking about stats to the chick next to him who couldn’t give less of a fuck what he is prattling on about, because there is a rock show going on). Gets me every time.
All in all, it was a solid opening night for this NYE Run. Perfect lead up to what is sure to be an epic 12/31 show, as it always is. Of course, I’m biased, but let’s be honest. Sometimes, bands put on mediocre shows, and you walk out, still happy that you got one in yet feeling like it could have been more than it was. But not Umph. Every time I walk away from a stage that those guys have just been on, it has never been anything less than awesome. They continue to evolve, sharpening their skills and their sound, always looking to push the envelope and explore new musical territories. They continue to keep me interested and entertained, and at many times in absolute and pure bliss.
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. And for that, I offer my humblest thanks.