The area around the Red Bull stage was packed in anticipation of Umphrey’s McGee, with people climbing up trees for a better view. The Chicago-via-South Bend sextet consisted of two guitars, bass, keyboards and two drummers. The crowd was ready to rock and grateful that the rain that had threatened all day held off.
Showing their complete technical mastery on prog-rock jams like “Manthis Ghetts” and “Ocean's Billy,” Umphrey’s McGee got the crowd whipped up into a noodle-dancing frenzy. Was it due to all Umphrey’s fans that the home-hydroponics vendors set up shop at the festival? The band is adept at switching time signatures, keys and musical styles at the drop of the hat, but they still leave something to be desired. All too often, songs disappeared down rabbit-holes of improvisation, as members took turns ripping solos and running scales. The crowd loved it, though, and I suspect they have no issues with a band whose dial is forever stuck on “epic.”
Guitarist Brendan Bayless did some singing, and sporting a football jersey, channeled his best Patton Oswalt. Individual ideas stood out, like the West Coast g-thang keyboard line on ““JaJunk.” Unfortunately, all the stylistic wanderings over the course of the ten-plus minute jams diluted those stronger moments. I was left with the impression the band had never had an idea they didn’t like.
At 9:45, fifteen minutes before their scheduled end-time, the band left the stage to the confusion of the crowd. “What the fuck?” one fan wondered loudly. After a couple minutes, the Notre Dame dudes returned to play “Puppet String” as an encore. Whether endless jamming does it for your, or not, Umphrey’s McGee touches on all the disparate styles represented at the electro-rap-jam gathering that is North Coast.