Umphrey’s McGee is often dismissed as merely a technically flashy group that offers incredible musicianship but not much soul, and at times it’s hard to argue with that assessment. Certainly, the guitar-heavy, arpeggiated, metal-esque leanings of songs like “1348” and “Plunger” don’t refute it.
But what is easy to overlook is the versatility that the band portrays, and that was on show in full force Friday night at the House of Blues. In a set that pushed three hours, Umphrey’s opened with the harmony-driven rock of “The Bottom Half” before segueing into the light, loose reggae of “Higgins” and back again. A lithe, jazzy “Uncle Wally” from the band’s 2002 album Local Band Does O.K. was another departure from the riff-heavy rock and roll.
The first set also saw an extended “In The Kitchen” with drummer Adam Deitch from opening group Eric Krasno and Chapter 2 sitting in with the band before they launched “Prowler” > “Push The Pig” which featured the talents of New England-based keyboardist Nate Wilson.
After a nearly half hour-long encore break, the Chicago-based group came back onstage and tore the roof off the place with opener “Mantis” from its 2009 album of the same name. The song represents the epitome of what Umphrey’s strives to be, combining a dynamic opening riff with a highly organized structure, dynamic interplay, epic lead vocals from Brendan Bayless and a Pink Floyd interlude that gave way to the spacey, dark “Ocean Billy.”
“Der Bluten Kat” was broken up by a foray into the Led Zeppelin classic “The Song Remains the Same,” to which the band did justice, resulting in one of the most memorable moments of the show. In matching Jimmy Page’s 12-string blues-rock forays, guitarist Jake Cinninger unleashed a flurry of notes that was exhilarating to witness. Dance-rock jam “The Triple Wide” saw keyboardist Joel Cummins take center stage with his synth, riding the swell of guitars to a climactic show ending.
In typical Umphrey’s fashion, the encore of “Plunger” melted the crowd’s faces and, before leaving the stage, they launched back into “Mantis,” picking up where the song had previously bled into “Ocean Billy” and finishing it to the delight of the crowd.