Show Review: Umphrey’s McGee at House of Blues

Photo by Mackenzie Gilchrist

Renowned jam band brings the funk–On March 18th 2011, Sarah Jorgenson & Mackenzie Gilchrist checked out the Umphre’s McGee show at the House of Blues in downtown San Diego.

By: Sarah Jorgenson & Mackenzie Gilchrist

If there is one thing to be said about the performance at the House of Blues on March 18, it is that Umphrey’s McGee brought in the funk and the crowd just loved it. The band had everyone in the packed venue excited and jamming every second from the amped-up opener “Spires” until the second set closer, “Phil’s Farm,” when the people were banging on the walls, clapping and chanting, “we want the Umph, gotta have that Umph!”

Happy to be out of the Chicago cold and into the San Diego sunshine, the band seemed thrilled to be playing for the enthusiastic fans and delivered their awesome performance in true jam band style. Unlike the usual acts that come through the House of Blues, Umphrey’s McGee played two fairly long sets and even went almost thirty minutes past the usually strictly enforced noise curfew. Their extra long jams, phenomenal light show and particularly funky improvisation gave the people exactly what is expected of a jam band show. They played some of their more popular tracks such as “Nemo,” “Partyin Peeps” and “Pay the Snucka,” but also included some new songs and, of course, various teasers—most notably one for “The Triple Wide” thrown into the end of the second set.

Set One remained rather safe territory for the band.  Some of their more well-known songs, like “Words,” came across as rather pop-tinged and canned at first, but were able to transcend this canned sound once the band began to expand into their nuanced and exploratory jams. Like many bands in the jam genre, Umphrey’s McGee seems most at ease while improvising, and some of the songs that serve as the base for the jams fall flat at first.  By the end of the first set, it seemed that the band had really settled into their playing well; the set’s closers “Push the Pig” and “Go to Hell” were two of the show’s highlights.

Set Two brought even more psychedelic improvisation. In particular, the segued series of “Phil’s Farm > Day Nurse > Hangover > Soul Food II > Phil’s Farm” was incredible. The flow from each song to the next was expertly accomplished, even when the mood of the following song was different from the one before. A special treat was the powerful Led Zeppelin cover “The Song Remains the Same” early in the set. Overall, the jamming was extremely funk-inspired and kept the enthusiastic crowd on their feet the entire set.

It is rare that an accomplished jam band like Umphrey’s McGee comes to San Diego, but it should happen more often. It was clear that the packed House of Blues was eager to enjoy the funky jams that the band had to offer, and it was even clearer that the band was having a great time playing for a unique audience of southern Californians. This is one jam band worth seeking out.


Photo by Mackenzie Gilchrist