After two long years of absence, Asheville, the old friend of NC McGee of Umphrey returned for its traditional two-night run in February. Show from Friday to ExploreAsheville.com Arena saw a bust of Metallic“…And Justice For All” hasn’t been performed in nearly two years.
Creating the vibe before UM was thespecial. This marked the first arena show for a rapidly growing progressive trio, and it’s hard to imagine the group ever returning to a smaller location. As bassist Luc Bemand sang the original “American Apocalypse”, the band defined arena rock at its best. lespecial paid homage to his myriad heavy influences, including covers of Primus“Frizzle Fry” and a mix of King Crimson“The Schizoid Man of the 21st Century” and black sabbath“Ironman”.
The main event came quickly at 8:30 p.m. ET as Umphrey’s McGee took the stage. The band hadn’t played in North Carolina’s music paradise since Feb. 18, 2020, when they performed back-to-back shows at the opening downtown arena. Billy strings. The techno decadence of Umphrey’s McGee song “You Got The Wrong Guy” quickly shattered as the band plunged straight into the equational progressive rock that made them a household name.
Fueling up for the upcoming long weekend, Umphrey’s invited us all to “Get In The Van.” While openers lespecial had just proven their status as an arena band an hour before, UM’s place on the big stage is a well-known fact. The only thing missing was pyrotechnics.
Behind the band, what looked like a giant stone wall, possibly an allusion to the band’s next concert Rockjavík destination event in Iceland – captured the darkest colors of the visible spectrum as a guitarist Brendan Bayliss encouraged a slow-building jam that evolved into an all-out headbang, emerging as “The Floor” on the other side.
Pushed with interstellar phasers from the keyboardist Joel Cummins, the long “The Floor” reached space for the first dose of major improvisation of the evening. Then Brendan’s eerie ’90s-style vocal delivery was balanced out by another guitarist. Jake Cinninger‘s harmonics on “Uncommon”. The solo saw more acrobatics on Cinninger’s fretboard, as his two-handed tapping drew a musical rainbow similar to the lights above.
This turned into “2×2”, which featured a jam based on david bowie‘s “Fame”, although the song itself was not played in full. Funk improvisation around Starman’s Young Americans hit proved yet another musical dimension of Umphrey’s McGee.
Between songs, Bayliss greeted the audience, saying, “Asheville, it’s been a while” a la Task. This was followed by UM’s latest single, “I Don’t Know What I Want”, mixing retro 80s instrumentation with Brendan’s despondent lyricism. “All In Time” came next, with its heavenly chorus of twin guitars.
The live staple eventually morphed into the maybe a bit on the nose “We’re going to war” for those who read the news. For those coming to terms with our inability to effect change on a global scale – or those who just didn’t know the name of the song – it was nice to lose a few brain cells raving off steam. The first set ended with “Believe the Lie”, with a macho jam like something Superior gunas drummer Kris Myers turned on the engines and Brendan and the bassist Ryan Stassik activated the afterburners.
There’s no better way to come back from a setbreak than Jake Cinninger barking out “40’s Theme.” The song opened with an eerie, muted jam similar to “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 1”. Bayliss led the pack with syncopated improvisation and some two-handed tapping. Brendan played it understated while Cinninger, in turn, lit sparks from his Fender Stratocaster.
“Higgins” came next, providing slow-paced respite with its laid-back island vibes. Between songs, the crowd voted on whether Ryan Stasik should die his platinum mullet, which received a resounding approval from the audience. Pictures to come, I hope.
“Jajunk” followed, opening with a jarring jam as Umphrey continued to linger in improvisation for a set filled with a small number of long songs. This resulted in “Mail Package”, in which Jake altered the song’s lyrics to include a shout out to Asheville, North Carolina. The song developed into a dubby groove as Stasik and Cummins followed suit.
As the set wrapped up, it was time for the “In The Kitchen” audience. With a harmonic jam, the song returned in “JaJunk” to close the second set. Before leaving for the encore break, Bayliss graciously extended an invitation to come back “if you have nothing to do tomorrow.”
Taking to the ExploreAsheville.com arena stage once again, Umphrey’s McGee paid homage to stadium rockers Metallica with a release of “…And Justice For All.” Umphrey’s hadn’t covered the 1988 Bay Area metal giant’s title track since 3/6/20, per AllThingsUmphrey’s. Kris Myers took the last spotlight of the evening, really getting behind his bass drum and delivering a spot-on James Hetfield impression.
As Bayliss said, “if you have nothing to do,” Umphrey’s McGee starts again in Asheville tonight, February 26. Visit the band’s website for tickets or click here for live stream packages. Full audio is available courtesy of typing NSL.
Umphrey’s McGee – ExploreAsheville.com Arena – Asheville, North Carolina – 02/25/22
Setlist: Umphrey’s McGee | ExploreAsheville.com Arena | Asheville, North Carolina | 02/25/22
Set One: You’ve Got the Wrong Guy > Get in the Van > The Ground, Uncommon > 2×2 I don’t know what I want, Anytime -> We’re going to war, Believe the lie
Set 2: 40s Theme, Higgins, JaJunk > Mail Package, In The Kitchen > JaJunk
Again: … And justice for all (Metallica)
 with Fame Jam (David Bowie)