Umphrey's McGee
Variety Playhouse
Atlanta, GA - 2/19/09

Photos & Review by Ian Rawn
Following the release of their highly-publicized studio album Mantis, Umphrey's McGee headed south to share a combination of new and classic songs with Atlantans for back-to-back nights. The famed Variety Playhouse was chosen to host both shows, as this 750 seat venue offered a uniquely intimate experience for both fans and artists alike. Many fans expressed pleasant surprise at the choice in venue, due to the fact that Umphrey's easily could have played the much larger Tabernacle where they performed just a few months prior. Excitement built as fans trickled in on a Thursday evening, bringing an energy that accompanies the best of weekend shows. Talk about the latest album filled the air as many were anxious to see how the new songs would manifest during a live performance.

Umphrey's McGee seemed to be to channeling the spirit of the crowd, or perhaps they were just eager to share the new stuff, opening the show with "Jazz Odyssey," followed by "Cemetery Walk," the 4th track off of Mantis. The band took an interesting approach to the introduction of the show by actually accompanying the album version of "Cemetery Walk" that was being broadcast over the PA system. It was a bold start to the evening that led into massive consecutive sandwiches that would serve as a roadmap for the majority of the first set. The initial sandwich of "Eat > Jimmy Stewart (a signature jam) > Nemo > Eat," exhibited the group's creative interplay and ability to weave seamlessly between songs. Following this stellar opener was the progressive sounding "Higgins > Kula > Higgins." This pairing echoed the sounds of one of prog rock forefather's, Rush, while highlighting Umphrey's predisposition to musical exploration. The set would take a heavier and more decisive turn with "Phil's Farm" which was topped off by a trifecta of cover songs. Pink Floyd's "Money," Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times" and the White Stripe's "Seven Nation Army" were all blended into one powerful concoction that provided for a crowd-pleasing set closer.

Energized from the break, Umphrey's came out with their jam faces on, opening with a 16-minute "Divisions" that segued into a 17-minute "Utopian Fir." This pairing ran the gamut with moments of rhythmic percussion, reggae style jams and peaked as Kris Myers' drums upped the tempo by introducing a long awaited, yet brief, guitar solo. Later in the set, Joel Cummins' presence became known as his oft overlooked piano work kept the pace for a delightful rendition of "Kimble." "Rocker" led the band into a long section of beat-infused electronica that continued through "Wappy Sprayberry" until the set came to a close - as it had started - with "Divisions." As the second set had been defined by extended yet mellow jamming, fans familiar with the band's live performance might have anticipated an upbeat metal inspired closing to the show. It turned out that was exactly what they would get as things concluded with "Miss Tinkle's Overture." A great way to end the night and a solid performance overall, but there was still plenty left for the Friday show to come. I, your humble reviewer, left the venue satisfied, yet hoping to hear more amazing tunes from Mantis the next evening.

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