Valentine's Day with Umphrey's McGee and TAUK
Umphrey's McGee fans in the Southeast were treated to their second consecutive Valentine's Day show in North Carolina last week, as the band's Winter Tour rolled through The Ritz in Raleigh. Last year's Valentine's show was in Asheville, NC at a sold out Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. This night in Raleigh was no different, continuing a frequent trend of sold out nights for the Chicago-based rockers. Support came from TAUK, a dynamic jam/funk quartet based in New York. TAUK has quickly become one of the jam scene's hottest rising acts, making for as exciting of a night of live music as one could ask for.
TAUK's opening set was sparked with "The Spot", a well-known power ballad from the band's second studio release, Homunculus. This seemed to be a perfect choice, allowing for a slower but powerful rhythm section from Isaac Teel (drums). Matt Jalbert's (guitar) extended intro seemed to lure in every person in the room, making way for a nice, jazzy bridge from Alric "A.C." Carter (keyboards). Charlie Dolan's (bass) steady tone seemed to resonate throughout the building and a special night of music was in effect. "The Spot" allows for all four band members to shine equally, as does nearly everything in the TAUK catalog. Next came "Rainwalk", which I believe to be a newer track, unless it has yet to be recorded in the studio.
One of my personal favorites from Collisions, the 2014 studio release, came next in "Tumbler". "Sunshine" would follow, filling this set with shredding solos from Jalbert. The band showed it's diverse side with a flawless cover of The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," a tune TAUK has been known to throw in the mix. As the set came to a close, Joel Cummins (keyboards) and Andy Farag (percussion) joined the band for "Dead Signal," another TAUK classic from Homunculus. Farag's presence added a notable presence of percussion, while Cummins and Carter treated the crowd to an animated battle from behind the keys. The chemistry of this band is so strong that it becomes tough to describe. That same chemistry was upheld with Cummins and Farag, as the two bands have spent much of 2015 on the road together. TAUK seems to be following the path of Umphrey's road to success and longevity, which we should all be very thankful for.
After a brief intermission, we were all set for two sets of blazing, progressive rock from Umphrey's McGee. The lights dimmed and the set began with "October Rain," a lengthy instrumental which is frequently mixed in the selection of openeners. Playing to the spirit of Valentine's Day, "Booth Love" came next and set a perfect mood for the night. "Gents", which was debuted just last year at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, made it's fourth live appearance before "Hourglass." Brendan Bayliss (vocals/guitar) brought out the vocals from the crowd with this one, as it's difficult not to join in as he sings "We'll make it along with what we've got" many times throughout. The set continued with the classic "All Things Ninja," a highly desired choice for UM fans since 1999. One of the band's newest tunes "Piranhas" would follow. This would be just the second time "Piranhas" has been played and the first since it's debut on New Years Eve (2014). Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen" absolutely set the room off, creating smiles from wall to wall as Bayliss (guitar/vocals) took Raleigh back to 1980 and gave his best David Palmer impression. "Full Frontal" provided an jazzy segue before the heavy hitting "Spires" brought the set to a close.
Set two began with a newer tune, "Educated Guess", which was debuted alongside the release of Similar Skin this past summer. This was yet another prime example of the modern, progressive rock sound you find with Umphrey's. "Morning Song", the "bonus track" from Similar Skin, made for a perfect follow. It was at this point in the show that the diverse reach of this band was at it's peak. The familiar, extended piano riff from Cummins took us into "Miss Tinkle's Overture", one of the most widely known Umphrey's instrumental tunes in the catalog. The song is an all out journey, with a constant build up that has a truly triumphant feel to it. Looking around the venue, the unorthodox jumping and fists flying up and down only reaffirmed my feelings about "Miss Tinkle's". A lengthy improv jam ensued, and the building was as loose as all get-out.
Things settled down for about 30 seconds, and Bayliss addressed the rowdy Raleigh audience. "This next song's about is when you get too fucked up, and you stick around even though you shouldn't", Bayliss noted, before delivering the opening notes of "Example 1". This was a total 180 in the set, being one of more groovy, jazzy tunes from Umphrey's early days. Those jumping up and down and pumping and their fists were now bobbing their heads slowly, sharing in the groove. Next came "Phil's Farm", which always brings out the best from this band. A heavy intro filled with rapid transitions ultimately led to a twangy, Western-style folk rock tune. It's tough not to love this band's ability to catch you off guard, and squeeze something in when you least expect it. Another turn in the set came as the jam led into Radiohead's "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", with vocals being tackled by Kris Myers (drums). This led back into "Phil's Farm" just six minutes later, creating a major highlight for many of Umphrey's most diehard followers. The speed and precision from Myers and Ryan Stasik (bass) was jaw dropping, while also allowing for Bayliss and Cinnenger to battle it out back and forth on lead guitar. With little time remaining, an 11-minute "Wappy Sprayberry" and the classic "Ringo" added a nice layer of icing to an already sweet cake.
The encore changed the pace yet again, but for all of the right reasons. "Glory", one of the more peaceful, beautiful songs out there, settled the crowd down one last time, before "Room To Breath" gave the rockers in the building one more chance to 'give it hell'. Another Valentine's Day with Umphrey's was in the books, and I was left wanting much more, as usual. I have been fortunate enough to catch Umphrey's about a dozen times in the past year, and they represent all that is "right" in rock and roll. This tour has seen a significant amount of sold out crowds, including many major venues (The Beacon Theatre, The Ryman Auditorium, US Cellular Center, just to name a few). The dedication and effort always seems to be even greater than before, which is why we have no option but to keep coming back!
Opening Set: The Spot, Rainwalk, Tumbler, Sunshine, I Want You (She's So Heavy), Dead Signal*
*w/ Joel Cummins and Andy Farag of Umphrey's McGee
Set 1: October Rain, Booth Love, Gents,Hourglass, All Things Ninja, Piranhas, Hey Nineteen > Full Frontal > Spires
Set 2: Educated Guess, Morning Song, Miss Tinkle's Overture, Example 1,Phil's Farm > Weird Fishes/Arpeggi > Phil's Farm, Wappy Sprayberry > Ringo Encore: Glory > Room to Breathe
Notes:  with Let Me Blow Your Mind (Eve) teases with Achy Breaky Heart (Billy Ray Cyrus) tease before Example 1