Words by Alex Napoliello | Photos by Joe Papeo
Asbury Park, NJ — As the sun set and shades of red covered the skies along the Atlantic coast, Umphrey’s McGee took to the Stone Pony Summerstage with a graceful presence. As the crowd finished filing in, slightly taken off guard by the early 7:30 p.m. start, front man Brendan Bayliss admired the scenery and confessed to the crowd that he and his band mates have been looking forward to this show for quite some time. Umphrey’s, a staple act in the jam scene, started the evening off on a slower note with “Cemetery Walk” and “August.”
The Stone Pony Summerstage is not your typical outdoor venue. While most outdoor stages are constructed in a field or amphitheater, the Summerstage lies right along the Jersey shore. The advantage, however, is mainly to the artists on stage, who can gaze out into the ocean while the fans have their backs turned to the coastline.
After Umphrey’s took a minute to soak in their surroundings and thanked Asbury Park for having them, they displayed their appreciation by playing a fan favorite, “Nemo.” But this version of “Nemo” was exceptional, breaking off into a cover of ZZ Top’s ‘“Cheap Sunglasses” before going back into “Nemo.” The first set continued on a high note with two classics: “Get in the Van” and “The Bottom Half.” It never ceases to amaze me how Umphrey’s McGee manages to keep their set list fresh and full of surprises. “The Bottom Half” featured a tease on Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” that had fans swaying their hips and singing along to the chorus.
Just as the first set was ending, darkness filled the sky just in time for the funky, reggae- like “Thin Air.” The fog machine filled the stage, and the lights hypnotized the audience, but it came to a subtle halt as Umphrey’s paused for a set break. The first set was rather slow and steady, leaving fans to believe that they would drop the hammer on the second set.
The Chicago-based jam band took the stage after a short, 15-minute break. Bayliss threw his guitar back on and said to the crowd, “let’s give it up for the weather,” referring to the beautiful landscapes surrounding the concert area.
Now that it was completely dark and the spectacular light show was in full gear, you’d think it would be time to bust out the pot, right? The Stone Pony security crew wasn’t having it. Mostly younger teenagers were getting tossed out left and right for drugs, leaving with expressions of bewilderment that an outdoor concert doesn’t tolerate weed smoking. One fan in front me even tried to make a run for it, but did not make it too far.
Those fans that got escorted out missed an energetic, hard-hitting second set. The set started out on a slow note, again, with “Hangover,” as fans sang the chorus, “all night long,” in unison with Bayliss. “Turn & Dub” was next followed by an intense improvisational jam (“Jimmy Stewart”), then back into “Turn & Dub,” capping the jam off with a tease of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.”
The set moved right along with “Hourglass” and “Resolution,” providing a nice segue into “Cemetery Walk II.” Umphrey’s took things down a notch with a lyric tease of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” before ending the set with “Room to Breathe.”
The encore came without much delay, and instead of throwing out a fan favorite, Umphrey’s ended the show with a cover of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” by the Rolling Stones.
Sometimes referred to as prog rock, Umphrey’s McGee brings to the table what no other jam bands can – the ability to shred and rock out. Phish knows how to amp up a crowd. Moe. will keep you groovin’ all night long. The Grateful Dead filled your heart with soul. But Umphrey’s McGee will melt your face off.
TheWaster.com | Asbury Park