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This past weekend, the Philadelphia area was the epicenter of the jam scene. Camp Bisco was this weekend, Live on the Lot was on Sunday, and jam titans Umphrey’s McGee and Lettuce set fire to the River Stage at Penn’s Landing on Saturday.
First off, Lettuce is the world’s best funk band. I don’t think this is breaking news to any of you if you’ve read this site; but every time I’m able to catch these guys live, they reinforce by bias. The band has complete control of the stage and the environment and makes it look easy. Saturday was no different, even in the heat-advisory-worthy temperature.
When watching this band, the amount of talent on stage is overwhelming until you realize they are essentially a super group. The veteran musicianship displayed promotes something that is both tight and loose simultaneously. You can tell these guys love to play by the effort they put in on stage – also by the fact that they came on 15 minutes early. They started their set with a little more soul than funk, highlighting the Shady Horns (Ryan Zoidis and Eric Bloom) and Neal Evans on keys.
Like all funk music, the bass playing of Jesus Coomes and drumming of Adam Deitch drives Lettuce’s sound; but the way they are able to layer in the expert guitar-playing of Eric Krasno and Adam Smirnoff is what sets them apart. Add Evans on keys and a great horns section to the mix and you have something special. In a lot of ways Lettuce is the perfect opener for Umphrey’s. It is almost difficult to call Lettuce an opener, as they are talented enough on their own – but they put on a different show that complement UM in all the right ways.
Within the music community, I have found Umphrey’s to be extremely polarizing, even within the jam scene. I have had friends describe UM as “too technical” for their liking. Maybe Umphrey’s isn’t as accessible as some other bands in the genre, but it’s very difficult to not be impressed with what they are putting down at a live show.
Right now, in the summer of 2015, we are seeing Umphrey’s at their best – they are a well-oiled machine. Coming off what was a described as a killer show by everyone that I spoke with Friday night in Asbury Park, UM were back at it with another one for the ages. The bowl structure of the River Stage on the Delaware River in Penn’s Landing made for a pretty unique setting as well.
Umphrey’s opened the set with the hard-hitting “Bridgeless” to get the crowd going right at the jump. Reggae-flavored “Higgins” followed to bring the tempo down and showcase guitarist Jake Cinninger, who stole the show. As the sun was setting, crowd favorite “In The Kitchen” sandwiched “2×2” neatly. Whenever lead singer Brendan Bayliss sang: “…I wanted to know if you’d still be here tomorrow,” from the chorus of “In The Kitchen” the crowd responded with a roar. The band also played just down the road in Baltimore the next night, so the response may have been fairly literal.
Things got a lot funkier as Krasno returned to the stage for a killer rendition of “Bad Friday.” At this point Dan, a 65-year-old Umphrey’s super-fan behind me said that this was the best Umphrey’s McGee show he had ever seen – out of 21 shows. Up until this point, the set was light on covers, which is a rarity for UM. That was until the Shady Horns and Smirnoff came out to play Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” – a perfect choice for Umphrey’s, with rare horn accompaniment. UM’s encore finished a stellar show with “The Floor” followed by “August” into “1348.” These guys are on fire right now. Don’t miss them in your city as they continue on their tour- including a three-night New Year’s run at The Fillmore in Denver.
See the set list below:
River Stage, Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia – July 18, 2015
In the Kitchen > 2X2 > In The Kitchen
Bad Friday (with Eric Krasno)
Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel cover) (with Adam Smirnoff, Ryan Zoidis & Eric Bloom)
Photos by Katherine Dey, Article by Adam Furtado