Words by James Farrell | Photo by Anthony Abu Hanna
On a cold night, on a dark Boston street, witches, monsters, ghosts, a handful of red-and-white clad Waldos, and hundreds of other creatures of the night formed a line outside the House of Blues. A clown walked by on stilts, towering over the congregation, yelling with excitement. A skeleton on a bicycle rode quickly by the adjacent street, blaring a siren over portable speakers.
The costumed masses waited patiently to enter Umphrey’s McGee’s sold-out Halloween show, an annual event where fans have come to expect the unexpected. In the past, Halloween shows have meant crazy costumes, creative mash-ups of well-known songs, and of course the mind-blowing, never-stale live experience of Umphrey’s McGee. For Umphrey’s, Halloween is a day where anything can happen, and this year’s show was no exception.
The band immediately made that clear with their costumes. In conjunction with the musical mash-ups so common at their Halloween shows, Umphrey’s wore “mash-up” costumes. Bass player Hasidic Julia Roberts stood in the center, mini-skirt and all. Keyboard player Super Manny Ramirez ripped open his Red Sox jersey to reveal the classic Superman ‘S’. There was percussionist Slaxl Rose (a mixture between Slash and Axl Rose), guitar player and singer RUN-D.M.C.C. DeVille (Run DMC and C.C. DeVille of Poison), and lead guitar player Devo Snyder. Last but not least, sporting a Hawaiian shirt, a long blond wig and a fedora, was drummer Weird Al Pacino. (“He’ll make you laugh, and then he might kill you.”)
Of course, the clever combinations weren’t just limited to costumes. The band debuted four never-before-played mash-ups. It ended the first set with a combination of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” “Walk this Way,” and The James Gang’s “Funk #49.” The second set contained a Carl Carlton (“She’s a Bad Mama Jama”) and Rick James (“Give It To Me Baby”) mix-up, and ended on one of the night’s best moments: a mash-up of Radiohead’s “National Anthem,” Beck’s “Loser,” and Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.”
While the mash-ups were all highlights, Umphrey’s two sets were filled with the band’s usual incredible musicianship. Crowd favorite, “All in Time” was the night’s most explosive moment, as it wove through a handful of other well-known Umphrey’s originals including a reprise of “Ocean Billy” (which was played earlier in the night) and “Nothing Too Fancy.”
Umphrey’s McGee has a sound that is completely unique, a combination of many different musical elements including funk, electric, and rock. Yet at their core, they are a progressive jam band, unafraid to let their unmatched instrumental abilities do the talking, recklessly adventurous in improvisation, and constantly seeking new sonic landscapes to traverse. An Umphrey’s song can range from a few minutes to a half an hour, and may contain everything from disco-esque dance segments to headbanging metal guitar solos.
The first set contained another Halloween surprise, one that no one, not even the band was expecting. During “Ocean Billy,” the sound suddenly gave out, and the band continued to play, confused and quietly. After a few minutes of stunned silence, the crowd helped lead singer Brendan Bayliss by singing the muted second verse in unison until the sound finally returned to satisfied cheers. If the technical difficulties had not lasted so long after the verse ended, it would have been one of the night’s most pleasant surprises.
The band’s encore ended on one final surprise before the creatures lurking in the House of Blues returned to that dark Boston street on that cold October night. In one final mash-up, the costumed musical pioneers combined “Sabatoge” by the Beastie Boys with “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent. It was a strange way to end the show, but what better way to end Halloween if not strangely?
TheWaster.com | Boston