I went to Wolf Trap last night to see Umphrey’s McGee. Bela Fleck & The Flecktones were headlining but I’d seen them before, and Marc Broussard was opening and I wanted to see him, but it was all about Umphrey’s. They first caught my ear when I read they were described as Rush meets Grateful Dead. That led me to pick up their last CD, Anchor Drops. A jaw dropping mixture of progressive rock and a jam band, I was hooked, although they’re of a new generation and I would submit a more likely characterization is Dream Theater meets Phish. I hadn’t seen them live yet – no one else caught my enthusiasm, and I’m not a huge fan of heading over to a show alone, especially at a place like the 9:30 Club where you’re hanging out between bands and sets with nothing to do (which turned out not to be a problem last night), and the danger of losing your place if you move. I picked up their new CD, Safety In Numbers, and waited for them to come around again.
So last night I got going a little late, not making it to Wolf Trap until 7:10, and Marc Broussard was already on stage. I’d waited until the last minute for a ticket which turned in my favor – when I bought one online Saturday, I got row A (4th row becasue of the orchestra pit). I was soon in my seat, grooving to Marc, and was glad I arrived when I did, because he brought Bela Fleck out on the next song. Later on, Jake Cinninger and Kris Myers of Umphrey’s McGee joined in on stage. Now it was closing in on 8PM, and there were still two bands, both known for improvisation, still to come. I was wondering how they were going to get both on before the 11PM curfew when they pulled the sweetest switch, right at 8PM. Bassist Ryan Stasik from Umphrey’s came on stage as Marc’s wandered off, then one by one they switched members – never losing the beat, until only Umphrey’s McGee was left on stage.
They brought that jam to a close, then went almost nonstop for the next hour. The musicianship they displayed was tremendous, and I’d never seen that applied to the jam band format before. Bela Fleck joined them as well, then right at 9PM (I was expecting it this time), they switched with Bela Fleck & The Flecktones. Now it’s not that I don’t like The Flecktones – I think they’re very talented players, and I greatly enjoyed watching them last night. Bela Fleck on banjo and Victor Wooten are bass are just monsters. But their style of music (heavily jazz influenced) and their (mostly) absence of vocals doesn’t give me a something to latch onto like a Dave Matthews Band (who I love seeing Bela Fleck play with). I stayed until they brought Marc Broussard back out to cover “Come Together”, then left to try and have an early night (and failed, but it could’ve been even later).
I’m definitely going to try and catch Umphrey’s McGee again next time they’re in town, wasn’t expecting to be so impressed by them.