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Umphrey's McGee and Spafford Deliver Sold-Out Sunday Special August 13, 2018 16:20

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Photos by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography
Words by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
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While Sunday afternoon would see heavy rains roll through early on, the skies would clear just in time for a rock show that Birmingham will be talking about for some time. Jam veterans Umphrey's McGee always bring a special show to The Magic City, but there was a notable buzz surrounding this particular date. The opening gig for Umphrey's has been a highly coveted spot for years, and I'm not sure that role has ever been filled by a hotter band than Spafford. These two seem like a match made in 'jam band heaven', and Sunday night's sold-out show at Avondale Brewing Company was everything we could have hoped for. 
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Spafford has quickly become one of the hottest rising acts in the jam/festival scene, and the showing of fans for this early 5:30 PM set was a direct indication. This would be just my third opportunity to catch these guys, with the first two coming earlier this year at SweetWater 420 Festival. The band came out firing with an 18-minute "Windmill" to open the set, showcasing their brilliant approach towards improvisation early on. Next up was the beautifully melodic "Slip and Squander," one of my favorites from the band's latest release For Amusement Only. This one captures the essence of keyboardist's Andrew "Red" Johnson's vocals as well as any tune in the bands arsenal. Heavy jams within "Lovesick Melody" and "Soil" would round out one of the stronger 45-minute sets of music I can remember. While we were all hungry for Umphrey's, Spafford left one hell of a mark on Birmingham. We'll all be anxiously awaiting their return, which will undoubtedly be a hot ticket. 
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Umphrey's took the stage shortly after to the first sold-out crowd that I've witnessed in quite a few shows at the brewery. This was a night that featured a heavy dosage of UM staples, starting off with a rocking "August." The set continued with "Day Nurse" > "The Linear," only to be followed by one of my all-time favorites, "Mantis." I can't help but throw my hands up in celebration when the chorus for that one comes around. The jam would ultimately segue into "Draconian" and one of the band's newest tracks, "Forks," would follow. Frontman Brendan Bayliss then called on "local up-and-comer" Taylor Hicks for the band's debut of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" to close out the set. If anyone hadn't been singing along by this point in the night, they surely chimed in for this moment. Video footage from "Mantis" and "Drift Away" can be found below.
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Speaking of all-time favorites, the second set was about as strong as a long-time Umphrey's fan could ask for. "Ringo" lit a fire in the rowdy Birmingham crowd and a massive "Cemetery Walk" > "Cemetery Walk II" made for a super funky, electro dance party. Keyboardist Joel Cummins would continue to shine as he led the way into "2 x 2," another UM ballad which just resonates with a beautiful, peaceful vibe. "Bridgeless" provided some of the evening's heavier moments, as it tends to do, before a nice segue into "Seasons," a newer tune from the band's recent surprise album it's you. "Seasons" ultimately led back into the unfinished "Mantis" from earlier in the night, which made for an emphatic end to the second set. 
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The encore would point the spotlight on Cummins yet again as he sparked the intro and led the way through "Kimble." Just when I was thinking we might get another big cover to close out the night, the band ripped back into "Bridgeless" and finished in appropriately raging fashion. It had been about a year since my last non-festival, two-set Umphrey's show, and this was just what the doctor ordered. This band operates like a well-oiled machine, and they continue to raise the bar like very few have ever been capable of doing. We'll be anxiously awaiting their return, and speaking of which, would it be too much to ask for a two-night run in Alabama?  You know what they say...you can't get a hit unless you swing the bat. 
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Spafford - Birmingham, AL - 08.12.18

Set: Windmill, Slip and Squander, Lovesick Melody > Soil

Umphrey's McGee - Birmingham, AL - 08.12.18

Set 1: August, Day Nurse > The Linear, Mantis > Draconian, Forks, Drift Away[1]

Set 2: Ringo, Cemetery Walk > Cemetery Walk II, 2x2, Bridgeless >  Seasons > Mantis

Encore: Kimble > Bridgeless

Notes: [1] debut, Dobie Gray; with Taylor Hicks
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Watch a clip of Spafford performing "Soil" here:
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Watch a clip of Umphrey's McGee performing "Mantis" here:
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Watch a clip of Umphrey's peforming "Drift Away" with Taylor Hicks here:
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