Words: Ryan Mannix | Photos: Billy Andres
As Chicago music fans, we aren’t blessed with the greatest outdoor venues. Although the Lakefront Green seems to be a great new addition, that won't stop me from making the short trip to Indianapolis when Umphrey’s is in town.
I think of it as something like a "second" hometown for the band (just an hour or so from South Bend) and on this night, like most in Indy, the band put on quite a show to fit that homecoming vibe. The Lawn at White River State Park delivers on nearly every account -- with a great grass lawn, free chairs, perfect sightlines, and plenty of good beer.
"Le Blitz" is one of the most used walkout songs that Umphrey's employs, but it always hits hard and gets the excitement high. I don’t think a single person in the beautiful outdoor venue could have predicted the rare video game metal of “Robot World” as an opener, but it was a pleasant surprise. It also got the band to start stretching out their improvisational legs right off the bat.
“Liquid” was another bit of a shock, as the song has only been played twice in the last three years. The Jake-led song worked well in the early first set slot. A psychedelic closing section bled right into one of the band's weirdest originals, “Utopian Fir”. The opening section is reminiscent of a Frank Zappa composition, which leads to some funk jamming, before a return to a reggae outro. It definitely had the feel-good summer vibe.
The start of “Wellwishers” brought out saxophonist Nicholas Gerlach to complement the sextet. While a horn sit-in might signify a standard funk song in a more typical band, the group and their guest worked this tune to a beautiful peak and provided a lot of harmonic depth behind Gerlach's solo.
More rare songs came next with both “Soul Food 1” and "Soul Food 2", emblematic of the hyper. goofy funk that defined UM's early sound. While the setlist didn’t have huge bust outs, there were a lot of songs that don’t get played very often, so finding them all in one place was certainly a treat.
“Plunger” is one of the band's most beloved songs and can be placed anywhere in a show as big exclamation point. This version had great energy and a unique jam segment that dropped to near silence before shifting back into the tune.
“Bad Friday” kicked off the second set dance party that is common with a two-set Umphrey’s show. It's not an all-time favorite song of mine, but there is no denying its hooks and rocking peak.
The energy was established then and there and flowed through the second ever rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar”. The vocal duties were taken over by Kanika Moore from Stasik’s side project, Doom Flamingo. She’s a powerhouse in every sense of the word and delivered an unforgetable performance of this classic tune.
The dance energy was brought back by “The Triple Wide”. A friend turned to me hoping the song would get the "Type II" treatment for the jam. Usually, you can expect things to stay in the techno / electronic realm, but on rare occasions, the song has morphed into alternate directions. While not a long version, it was not your every day “Triple Wide”
More unique jamming followed on “JaJunk” as Cinninger really worked through hand signals and key changes that the whole band locked in on. One of the most fun and classical-sounding outros belongs to this song. It was a real pleasure to get Jake's signature guitar acrobatics in the middle of the second set.
Perhaps a nod to the general rarity of setlist selection was the short and sweet “Uncommon”. Somehow the band was able cram in two heavy hitters to close out the evening with a moving rendition of “2X2” that had a particularly inspired solo from Brendan Bayliss.
The final song of the second set was “Bridgeless”, one of the few songs I would be cool with hearing more or less the same every night. It has such a great flow to the composition and the dueling guitars at the end are usually among the highest energy peaks in a show -- even in a show full of them. A great cap to a set that looks as good on paper as it sounded.
The “Band on the Run” encore that recalled another Paul McCartney encore from the venue three years prior. Encores are the perfect spot for a fun sing-along that closes out the night with everyone in high spirits.