Driving by Stubb’s, just before 7 pm, it sounded like the party had already started. The sun was still out and the sounds of North Carolina’s Big Something spilled out onto the sidewalk from the outdoor stage as the crowd came trickling in.
Again, Stubb’s was filling up with festie freaks, though these were of a different flavor than last week’s three-night String Cheese Incident circus. Many present had also been to at least one night of SCI, but the overall demographic was younger. It felt a little more like a college party – more urban than natural. Such is the crowd Umphrey’s McGee draws with their particularly aggressive brand of jam music.
The sun was still out when Umphrey’s took the stage. They wasted little time getting situated, and quickly lit into “There’s No Crying in Mexico.” From there, amid the ever-churning colored lights and strobes, the band hopped effortlessly from tune to tune and tore through improvisational excursions—essentially doing what they do best.
As the first set progressed, the sun dipped behind the surrounding buildings and night descended. Bassist Ryan Stasik’s sunglasses came off, and it started getting real. The onstage communication was constant. Nods and gestures guided the music along, often bringing it back from the brink of frantic climaxes on the verge of spilling over— welcome releases that wound us into ecstatic frenzies.
It was well into the night by the time set two came around, opening strong with “Bad Friday.” The intense vibes kept coming, especially during an epic extended performance of “Puppet String.” And towards the end of the second set, somewhere during “Ringo,” a surprise— “Voodoo Chile” peeked out of the sea of potential that is an Umphrey’s jam.
Was it planned? Doubtful. Any Umphreak will tell you these things happen all the time without warning. Watching the groupthink – the layered non-verbal communication as Umphrey’s McGee blazes new trails through the infinite possibilities that is a jam session – is one of the great things about an Umphrey’s show. It’s why we go. It’s why we listen. It’s why so many there that night followed them out of Austin when they left for the next city. And it’s why we will all be back when they come around again.
All photos by Chris Lazaga