Prog-rock jammers Umphrey’s McGee returned to Colorado on Friday for an explosive headlining show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Balancing the weekend with an intimate Saturday show at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, the 15-year veterans of the jam scene opted to bring a metal-heavy spectacle to the rocks—pyrotechnics and AC/DC covers included.
After experimental evening sets by openers Delta Spirit and Dr. Dog, Umphrey’s entered to Edvard Grieg’s eerie classical piece “In the Hall of the Mountain King” before dropping into the start of “Divisions” (to be finished near the end of the night). The first set included fan favorites like the funky “40’s Theme,” the sing-along “In The Kitchen” and the shredding guitar harmonies of “Miss Tinkle’s Overture.” It also introduced a lighthearted, nostalgic tone when guitarist Jake Cinninger took lead for “Frankie Zombie,” an amusing mash-up of White Zombie’s “Thunderkiss ‘65” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax.”
Following an extended set-break, it was time for lighting designer Jefferson Waful to take over. In addition to kaleidoscopic movers that painted the walls of the amphitheater the entire night, the second set debuted some powerful new toys. Flames flew out from all corners of the stage, plumes of sparks showered down on the band and colorful explosives closed out a show that suddenly had the crowd “oohing” and “ahhing” like they were at a Fourth of July fireworks display.
With the exception of a soulful “Glory,” the set continued a heavy tone that ended with a screaming cover of AC/DC’s “Thunderstuck” into a full “Mantis” encore.
Other than the relentless power and precision of drummer Kris Myers, it is Cinninger’s virtuosic guitar playing that consistently steals an Umphrey’s McGee show. Whether layering jams with intricate percussive licks or taking extended solos that showcase his speed, Cinninger’s chops are rivaled by few guitarists in the world.
Umphrey’s McGee elated their loyal Colorado fans with a surprise announcement at the end of the show — the band will play a three-night New Year’s Eve run at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver. Such is the band’s motto: Rage. Rest. Repeat.
Nate Etter is a Boulder-based musician and a regular contributor to Reverb. You can reach him at Nate@EcoVessel.com.
Todd Radunsky is a Boulder-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.