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Umphrey’s McGee Holds Trippy Light Show

When Umphrey’s McGee took the stage last night, the State Theatre transformed with the blending of musical styles and color patterns.

For Umphrey’s fans, it was everything we’ve come to expect at a live show — improvisational odysseys, songs that slip into rock, pop or jazz covers before returning to the original riff and the unmistakable scent of some pretty dank herb.

For first-timers, it was probably a rather unique experience. The first thing to stand out at your first Umphrey’s show is the variety in the audience.

Near where I stood, for example, were three girls with a funky sense of style, the most astonishing of which had dread-locked red hair flowing over a white shag coat. Next to them was a pack of guys who looked totally fried, with unkempt hair they kept shaking away from their faces. Knit caps abounded in the audience, as well as various patterns of shirt, everything from plaid to tie-dye.

The minute the lights dropped and the band hit the stage, devil’s horns — the immortal symbol to “rock on” — went up with cheers throughout the crowd. And once the wall of sound that was their first number, “Alex’s House,” hit the audience, and the laser show started, the entire audience was on their feet. Most swayed back and forth with a few even straight-up dancing, often not even in time to the music; but that didn’t matter to them. The point was just to move.

The show was as much a visual smorgasbord as it was a display of raw musical talent. The first swirling, multicolored patterns on the backdrop elicited cheers from the audience, followed by a rainbow of spotlights shining in the eyes of everyone in the balcony. Props to The State Theatre for good use of their visual equipment.

About six songs in, around the time they played White Man’s Moccassins, the smell of weed could be smelled throughout the theatre. They rounded out the first half of the show with “Women, Wine and Song,” and by the time intermission rolled around the scent of the marijuana had reached Cheech and Chong levels.

At the start of the second half, thick haze from the weed smoke and the fog machines still swirled around the air, setting the fire alarm off (to the cheers of the audience) early on.

The second half was full of classic Umphrey’s covers, like their ever-epic version of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe,” after which I received yet another high-five from the friendly stranger in front of me who kept turning around for fives the entire night.

In the middle of one rather punkified jam, the band broke into their medley of “Peter Gunn/Every Breath You Take.” You may know Peter Gunn (originally by Henry Mancini) as that cool spy music they play in The Blues Brothers and other classics. Audience members pulled out lighters to wave along to the portions of the medley from the iconic Police ballade. Immediately after this, the band dove into some Toto. You know which song.

The band wrapped up the night with an encore performance of Liquid. By the time I walked out into the nighttime snow flurries at 12:30, it was hard to believe the world had existed outside of the jams in the theatre.

The two factors I think of when I listen to Umphrey’s are skill and versatility. Last night, they exhibited those in typical Umphrey’s fashion. You can tell they pour their souls into their live performances, with an innate ability to transition from a slow, smooth groove to a thrashing, speedy jam immediately and seamlessly. The skill required by some of their songs is indicated by frontman Bayliss’ concentration on his fret board throughout the complex parts, the lights going strobe for the intricate 16th note rhythms.

Most of all, it’s a fun show. Between the intense, trippy light show, the long-haired hippies doing what could pass for a seizure to the beat of the music, and bassist Ryan Stasik swinging his Terrible Towel to support his favorite, Super Bowl-bound team, everyone has a really good time. The weed doesn’t hurt, either.

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About the Author

Matthew D'Ippolito

I'm a senior majoring in print journalism with minors in political science and music technology. I'm from the small town of Pennsburg, about an hour north of Philly. I hope to one day work as a music reporter for Rolling Stone. I am single and looking to mingle.

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