Umphrey’s McGee made their return to Central Park SummerStage in NYC this past Friday, having not played there since 2009, and what a splendid and fun-filled return it was.
Warming them up for the day was groove-rock quartet Aqueous. Although the Albany-based band had only 30 minutes to do their thing, they spent the time in the best way possible, playing a two-song set of “Second Sight” and “Kitty Chaser.” Both were taken through substantial funk outs, and both hit moments of gritty, dynamite playing from these young phenoms. Their set actually invited a very sizable crowd into the park, and there was no question that they whipped everybody up into an excitement for Umphrey’s McGee.
Umphrey’s first set was marked by a couple of start-stops on their tune “Bridgeless,” as the band left the stage twice to handle some sound issues. But things were quickly figured out, and they beyond compensated for lost time by delivering a very strong first set. “Miss Tinkle’s Overture,” raged out of the gate with a tight ferocity, to the excitement of the Central Park audience.
Then the set became really groovy, with a few tunes extended with lots of improv. They took “2×2” on a long, great ride, and then “Example 1” and “Dump City” hit off that energy to grow to an early rager of a jam, with some pretty fearless improv from all six players. The tune wound its way back into a definitely fitting “Bridgeless” as the first set closer. This show was undoubtedly a Cinninger-heavy show, though, as this guitarist lead with a majority of of solos at the heavy improv points. It was welcomed, as he was in a natural, amped-up zone all night long.
The weather in Central Park started off beautifully, but the place wouldn’t stay dry forever. At the heart of Umphrey’s second set, an ominous sky unloaded a heavy downpour for roughly 15-20 straight minutes. Yet, Umphrey’s fans, being “true warriors” as Bayliss referred to them into the mic at one point, only relished the night even more. Summerstage was suddenly full of thrashing, dancing, true music lovers, and of course Umphrey’s matched that energy in full. The band was working through “North Route” just as the rain began to fall, and followed up with a huge “Utopian Fir,” that first diverted half-way through into a full band “Whole Lotta Love” jam, before ending on a fantastic, uplifting peak, one that made the downpour a blissful, ecstatic party.
After a nicely done cover of The Police’s “Driven to Tears,” Umphrey’s pushed the second set intensely right through to the end, with a “Mantis > Triple Wide > Mantis” sandwich that only grew more focused and more inspired as it went along. For their encore to this terrific show, the band brought out TAUK percussionist Isaac Teel to join on their encore of “Rocker Part 2.” You could really hear Teel’s contribution on this version, with him and Farag and Myers creating a huge engine of percussive push behind the band.
Later on in the night, Aqueous performed to a packed Highline Ballroom for their official after-party set. The foursome were clearly coming off the high steam of the day, for the band displayed both a confident sense of ease and a high level of spirit in their playing from the outset. “Skyway” and “Uncle Phil’s Territory” immediately found lengthy, improv-heavy territory, and flowed into “Don’t Do it.”
But the anticipation for this show pointed towards the planned sit-in of Cinninger and Cummins. and, to the impressed delight of the Highline Ballroom, the two emerged on stage mid-jam, and jumped into the music without a hitch. The chemistry clicked into place right away, proving how good an idea it was to have these two bands come together for this night. The Aqueous original picked up heat and funneled into what was called the “Highline Jam.” Cinninger and Gantzer showed a tremendous level of mutual enthusiasm, often going solo for solo whenever the action turned back toward them.
Cinninger and Cummins stayed through the cover of Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne,” which Aqueous had performed for the first time recently at SummerCamp with moe.’s Vinnie Amico. This was definitely a high point of the after show’s many musical offerings, with all six members throwing down into the mix, and even inviting teases on Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But A G Thang.” To finish up, Aqueous brought their own set-ending sandwich, in “Random Company > Numbers and Facts > Random Company,” for a great closer on their very strong day of playing.
Article and Photographs by Miles Hurley
7/7/17 — Umphrey’s McGee — Central Park Summer Stage — New York City
Set One: October Rain > Bridgeless, Miss Tinkle’s Overture, 2×2, Example 1 > Dump City > Bridgeless
Set Two: Plunger > North Route > Utopian Fir > Driven To Tears, Preamble > Mantis > The Triple Wide > Mantis
Encore: Rocker Pt. 2 (with Isaac Teel on percussion)
7/7/17 — Aqueous — Highline Ballroom — After-Party
Skyway, Uncle Phil’s Parachute > Don’t Do It* > Highline Jam*, Booth Love*, National Anthem*, Strange Times*, Kid Charlemagne*, Random Company> Numbers and Facts> Random Company
* w/ Jake Cinninger and Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee