An Umphtastic Halloween! – Umphrey’s Mcgee at The Fillmore 10/31

written by: Alex Cuttitta

photos credit: Dave Sheachnasaigh

5:30 pm ~ Finally, after months of waiting (and hours of procrastinating work that day), it was almost time for some UMPHS! I grab my ticket, my Halloween costume/accessories, glitter, ginger chews, homemade banana bread and a tub of peanut butter and headed to my friends’ place in Silver Spring to pre-party for the show!

6 pm ~ Upon arrival I am greeted by a heady group of people who I did not know, but whom my friends had met at Summer Camp. As it turns out they were staying over while there was no electricity at their houses in New Jersey.

7 pm ~ After putting the finishing touches on our costumes (including gorgeous third eyes), probably scaring a few trick or treaters, finishing our beers and making several last minute bathroom trips, we head out on the short walk to the Fillmore. It was incredibly cold out, but we kept a good pace and getting pumped by chanting and singing: “Weee want the Umph! Gotta have that Umph now! Weeee want the Umph! Gotta have that Umph now…” and on and on and on.  It being so early, by the time we reached the venue there was no line at all and we breeze through security.

7:30 pm ~ We’re in! First stop: coat check. Then, the downstairs bar/lounge for some drinks, a quick group picture for the Fillmore and to glitterfy.

8 pm ~ Things are flowing quite nicely tonight; as soon as the group decides to mosey on upstairs the opener, Bright Light Social Hour, is just beginning. Judging instantly from the foursome’s long, wild hair, I knew we’d be in for some good old southern rock. True to my guess, BLSH starts off by giving us some sweet vocal harmonies and lots of distorted guitar licks. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, bassist Jack O’Brien and keyboardist A.J. Vincent start jamming out on an electronic-esque dance tune, clearly having a blast; I feel myself smile as A.J. dances around and Jack’s fingers flow so effortlessly. But then, they settle back into the more bluesy stuff and for a bit, the rest of the audience appears to be as confused as I while the band straddles two very different musical worlds: with the Jack and A.J. pumping out the psychedelic party rock and guitarist Curtis Roush making strange wailing noises seemingly at random. It is tough for me to tell whether there is actually some tension in the band about the direction they are going or it’s all just part of their vibe… but by the time Joseph Mirasole comes in with a beastly, head-banging drum solo, I don’t give a damn anymore.

8:30ish pm ~ The time don’t matta’ anymore! I’m with good friends and immersed in a great experience. BLSH ends and I jet upstairs to pee and then rehydrate. HYDRATION IS KEY!!! I head back down to help my group stake out our spot in the middle, on the left under the Fillmore’s gorgeous chandeliers (always one of my favorite parts of going there). I look around and see some ridiculous costumes, from Gumby to Devo. It’s funny to me to see some older, well-to-do folks who are dressed up all nicely for a night out on the town mixed in with Storm Troopers and wizards, but I suppose that’s the nature of a Silver Spring venue.

9 pm ~ I still haven’t found a few of my friends who were coming separately, but when I start hearing magical music coming from the stage, my attention quickly redirects from the crowd to the glowing lights ahead of me. And then they appear – not the Jake, Joel, Kris, Andy, Ryan and Brendan I know, but the Clintons, Obama, Nixon, Reagan and Cheney. What’s more? Half of them are zombified!!!!! I geek out. 8D After a couple songs, Plunger comes on and you can feel the excitement in the air; together we cry “woooo!” in perfect time with the performers. This kind of participation is what I love most about live shows… what keeps me coming back for more. The musical tension builds as the crowd packs in tighter and tighter; I get hotter and hotter in my long dress and boots… what was I thinking dressing this warmly? I distract myself with the music and when they start into Mantis I get tingles crawling up my spine; Mantis lyrics always strike me right in the heart. Suddenly… what’s this? Am I really seeing what I think I’m seeing? YES! There’s some strange spider-web stuff being strewn across the crowd. It is unbelievably fun and trippy to watch people’s hands reach for and stretch the web, passing it to others and making cool designs in the lights. Everyone’s faces are aglow with wonder watching the whole thing go down. Never have I seen anything like this…. But I love it! UM sure went all out for this show. The rest of the first set continues on while they play more songs I don’t know. But, Umphrey’s easily oscillates between dark/creepy and magical, juxtaposing the two sides of Halloween, switching it up on a dime for the entertainment of all. And in masks nonetheless! Towards the end more of my friends make their way up from the back to join the crew. It’s so good to see them and dance like crazy surrounded by people I love!

10 pm? ~ I’ve lost all track of time. While we have a break I discuss with the set-list with my friend and fantastic Ump-head, Alex. It turns out neither of us knew most of the songs; I infer that they were either super obscure or from their new album for the most part… I guess I’ll check that out later.  After I make sure that people are holding down our spot, I jet to the bathroom and let out a looooot of liquid. Then, I wait around for the bar to refill the water pitcher with two lovely ladies, who love my glitter. Luckily, since I have it on hand, I am able to give them some glitter magic as well. They also love my costume – I am the embodiment of Princess Leia. (Sidenote: I’ve wanted to be Leia from a New Hope for many years now and having finally put together the perfect costume from pieces I found at Value Village is a dream come true. 🙂 One we get the pitcher filled we take several rounds of water shots before I return to my group.

10:30/45 ~ HAHAHAHA! UM comes back out, but not as Presidents, as FEMA workers… very topical thanks to Sandy. And they start in with the Dead! What could be better?? Having personally voted for Help on the Way>Slipknot! I am extraordinarily pleased that it made the cut, and to hear UM’s unique spin. While channeling the original hippies, they then, appropriately, they go right into the Allman Brother’s Band’s Jessica. Next up: the Talking Heads’ Girlfriend is Better, which always reminds me of my boyfriend, because I know it reminds him of me… funny how things like that work. I wish so badly that her were with me right now; he’s one of the people who first got me really into Umphrey’s. Mellow, as I call him, lives all the way in Santa Cruz, CA and being long-distance at times like this is incredibly hard. But I remind myself that he’s watching the live podcast out there and he’s always with me in my heart, so I groove on. But it’s getting hard to move where we are in the crowd, rows of people are like fucking brick walls! So my crew retreats to the back where we can all dance freely and stay together. After a long and jam-tastic GFIB, I hear the beginning notes from Led Zeppelin’s Fool in the Rain, my number one choice for them to play!!!! At one point I almost think I see Mellow squeezing past me in the packed crowd, but then the song reminds me not to be foolish. I dance harder than I have all night. And then  – THE BREAKDOWN!!! This is the highest I’ve felt all night, purely elevated by the music…. in true Ump spirit they give us a little teaser of Halloween Theme during the breakdown, before they go right back into the last chorus and finish to the cheers of everyone in the place. Next, they take it to the next level with the Tool song 46 & 2 as we get hark back to the hardcore heart of UM. At this point it is getting incredibly hot and stinky in the crowd. My head is starting to hurt and I realize I’m probably a bit dehydrated or my blood sugar is getting a bit too low so I dip to the side to get some more water and snack on a ginger chew.  During the next couple songs, including a really weird Dire Straits cover, two of my feline female friends and I decide to explore a bit. First we head upstairs, but to our avail, we can’t see a thing! The Fillmore has sold out to rich customers:  the entire balcony railing on all sides is reserved for the VIP section – LAME!!!!!!! It’s a bit more roomy but equally hot upstairs, so we head back down to chill out and chat in the merch area between the stage floor/bars and the outside doors. Finally, I can cool off as cold air from the people going in and out to smoke flows in. When we head back in, UM is just beginning the creaking noises that I recognize instantly as Thriller. Some MJ?? Hell yes! Let’s get this party started! I let go and do all the silly moves from the video that I can remember while singing along in falsetto. Then, another surprise from Ump: they’re mashing  it up with Another Brick in the Wall: Part 2!! Ingenious: Another Brick in the Thriller! Every one shouts, “WE DON’T NEED NO THOUGHT CONTROL!” I bask in the glory of the musical brilliance of UM for the rest of the second set with a huge smile on my face. They end, cheers ensue.

Midnight ~ I clap and yell and howl like a wolf along with all the others to entice UM back onstage. We get a good group chant of the classic: “We want the Umph! Gotta have that Umph now!” going and it feels so right.

12:30 am ~ As expected and appreciated, they come back on for an encore that blows us all away: Ophelia and Miss Tinkle’s Overture which leaves everyone on an incredibly high note. The night continues in awesomeness: I find a ride back to my friend’s place and as soon as we get there we concoct a crazy creation: peanut butter and blackberry jelly on banana bread!! Magic. Once everyone else gets back, we discuss the night. Some notable comments:

Kirk – “Lovely.”

Annie (first UM show) – “The cobwebs were super cool! But sometimes they got a bit too ‘Arrrggggg!’ for my taste. ” (I infer she means progressive/metal).

Olimpia (1st timer too) – “Their lights were AWESOME! But I agree with Annie.”

Mellow – “Really good, an extremely well-ordered set. Some of their new material is a bit too main-stream for me though. The beginning and end of the second set were especially awesome. It was very different from the shows they usually play but I love how they did their own spin on the covers with lots of sweet sandwiches, transitions and jams.”

My final thoughts:  UM has something for everyone. They can cover literally any genre and this proves how technically talented they really are (not to mention the whole playing new/rare songs in masks thing). Some people might not dig everything they do, but I’ve found that the really hardcore songs help me vent a lot of pent-up frustration… it’s very cathartic. And one thing everyone can say: I’ll be sore from all this rocking out tomorrow. Goodnight all.

Photographs courtesy of Alex Cuttitta and Aaron Malander

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