Opening the show was New Orleans vibraphonist/percussionist Mike Dillon with his band, which consists of Carly Meyers on trombone, Adam Gertner on the drums and Cliff Hines on bass synth. To call the set energetic would be a disservice to the band. The crowd was moving nonstop from the opening barrage of vibraphone notes to the end of the last tune, primarily because the quartet played the set straight through without taking more than a few seconds' break between tunes.
Mike Dillon is one of those performers that almost becomes one with the music. There isn't a single moment that he isn't acting like a mad scientist creating sounds from his vibraphone, abusing the percussion setup at his side, or dropping to the floor to make his tabla sound like an army of drummers.
The rest of the band gives just as good as Mike does. Adam beats his kit like a man possessed, almost to the point of losing his glasses. When Carly isn't making some of the most brash trombone sounds I've ever heard, she's matching Mike note for note on the xylophone or running through the crowd blowing a whistle and dancing with the audience. Cliff plays a bass synth using his guitar as a controller, which is a unique sight in and of itself. There were a few times when he was pushing enough bass through the PA speakers that it felt like they turned on the air conditioning.
The group ran through a collection of tunes from Dillon's past projects Billy Goat and Mike Dillon's Go-Go Jungle as well as songs from their most recent album. Often bizarre and always energetic, this group is nothing but smiles and laughter from start to finish. They come across as a group of friends having fun; there didn't appear to be any work going on while they were plying their trade.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should let you know that I have become friends with the group since I reviewed this band back in September of 2012 when it opened for Marco Benevento. In fact, my band opened for Adam and Carly's funk band Yojimbo last month. Since my view of the performance may be biased, I had a control subject to compare my observations. I brought a friend to the show who always ends up punching me in the arm when she really gets into the music. The Mike Dillon Band's 45-minute set was a five-puncher, which is one of the larger beatings I've taken in the name of music writing.
After a brief equipment load-in, Umphrey's McGee took the stage to start the first of their two sets. I had never seen UM or heard any of their music before they started playing. The consensus that I received from people I asked about them was "they're a jam band." I soon found out that the statement wasn't exactly correct.
While it is true that they are in the same general ballpark of jam bands like Phish and moe, Umphrey's McGee has a much cleaner, polished sound that is heavily steeped in progressive rock and jazz fusion. There was more than one time during their set that I thought I was at a Yes or Pink Floyd show. The guitars were loud with that heavily compressed but thick and squeaky-clean tone I generally associate with jazz fusion artists like Scott Henderson or Pat Metheny. The bass was just as thick as the guitars with no mud drowning out the keys, drums or percussion.
The band ran through a retrospective of their tunes, weaving the songs within each other in a broad tapestry of sound. The crowd was in non-stop motion, whether it was the folks in front of the stage throwing beads to the band or just up in the air, the guy in front of me on the main level doing the robot, or the short guy running non-stop around the building.
One thing that I found odd was that the band seemed to get a bigger response from the crowd when playing covers of Derek and the Dominoes' "Layla" or an interesting pairing of the Police tune "Every Breath You Take" interspersed with Henry Mancini's "Theme from Peter Gunn." I think that's the first time I've ever seen that happen, especially from a band with 15 years of songs under their belt.
Umphrey's McGee put on a fantastic show on their second night in St. Louis. Although I am generally not a fan of jam bands or progressive rock in particular, the combination of the two was interesting and meshed better than I would have thought had someone pitched the idea to me before the show.
The only complaint I have is purely a subjective one. The band was in perfect lock step and everything was polished and gleaming with nothing seeming out of place. Their sound was so good that it almost appeared as if they were playing a CD from the sound console.
While that level of precision makes for a technically spectacular show, it also comes off a bit sterile and makes me wonder why I paid for a ticket if I was getting the exact same thing that I could get on a CD. I enjoy hearing the banter between songs, the rough/false starts and the occasional sour note when I'm at a show.
Then again, when you've played with the same people for 15 years you develop a connection that makes everything sound studio perfect just because you intuitively know where things are going to go. The set didn't sound over-rehearsed and stale, so I'm going to lean towards the latter as the reason for the technical precision.
Umphrey's McGee set list:
Set 1: Leave Me Las Vegas > Get in the Van, The Floor, In the Kitchen> #5 > In The Kitchen, Example 1, Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty, Layla
Set 2: Der Bluten Kat > Peter Gunn / Every Breath You Take > Der Bluten Kat, White Pickle > Slacker, Wappy Sprayberry > Tribute to the Spinal Shaft > Puppet String
Phil's Farm > Glory > Phil's Farm