Photos and Review by: Rob Roane
Umphrey’s McGee was joined on tour by the up and coming Big Something for seven dates in April. I traveled from my home in North Carolina to catch the show on 4/21 at the historic Orpheum Theater in New Orleans. My travel Companions were Richard Todd Pettit: a regular special guest “PROcussionist” with Big Something, Jeremy Bell: a co-founder of Possum Holler Productions and Big Something’s music festival The BIG What, and Stephen Fogarty: the wild card of our group and a lover of denim.
New Orleans is a place unlike anywhere I have ever been. It was evident from the moment I exited my taxi from the airport that I was in a special place. We spent our first day there exploring and seeing the sights. Of course we visited Bourbon Street, which was overflowing with people of all ages and backgrounds; most doing their best to try to find the human limits of alcohol consumption. It was truly the best people-watching I’ve ever experienced. We spent a few hours just sitting and watching the craziness happen all around us.
Friday, the day of the show, arrived! I hopped on a streetcar to meet my cohorts for breakfast in the Garden District. The ride down St. Charles Street is amazing. Beautiful hundred year old homes line either side of the road. From every tree and section of power line hung thousands and thousands of Mardi Gras beads. Flung there over years and years of celebration; they looked like the tinsel you hang at Christmas. Although I’m not a fan of littering, the sheer number of them and the stories each one must hold made me appreciate them. Unfortunately, I went to the wrong restaurant and did not catch up with my friends. But, that street car ride was worth the mistake.
After some brunch and a nap, I met up with my friends. We had to make a special, early stop at the Orpheum to deliver a hi-hat to Big Something’s drummer, Ben Vinograd. (He has a tendency to break them and was in need of a new one) On our walk to the theater, we bumped into Umphrey’s bassist Ryan Stasik. He smiled and made a mustache gesture with his finger, referencing the t-shirt Fogarty was wearing which had a woman making the same gesture, with a mustache drawn on her finger. As we approached the theater, we saw Umphrey’s two tour busses sitting out in front. On the sidewalk behind them we found Ben, Doug Marshall (bass), Jesse Hensley (lead guitar), and Brian McCormick (tour manager) of Big Something. We all hugged, said our hellos, and chatted for a few minutes. Shortly thereafter, Nick MacDaniels (lead vocals/guitar) emerged from the theater to say hello and to give Jeremy a remedy for his ailing stomach. About that time, Kris Myers (Umphrey’s drummer) came out of one of the tour busses. Ben introduced us to him, and though he seemed to be in a hurry, he politely shook all of our hands and said hello before entering the theater.
Fast forward to 7:00pm: We waited outside of the Orpheum at the door to will call where I needed to pick up my media credentials. Big Something’s Casey Cranford (sax/EWI), Josh Kagel (keys), Brian, Doug, and Ben walked up and asked which way it was to Bourbon Street. Not wanting to miss our friends seeing that spectacle for the first time, we decided to just take them ourselves. After a quick walk up and down the street and a stop for a snack, we hurriedly made our way back to the theater as Big Something were to go on shortly.
The Orpheum is a stunning old theater built in 1918. It was used for Vaudeville plays and as a movie house in it’s early days. The New Orleans Philharmonic saved it from it’s scheduled demolition in 1983. It was loved by those musicians because of it’s great acoustic qualities and “vertical hall” style of construction. There really isn’t a bad seat there anywhere. It changed hands a couple more times until, in 2014, it was bought by Dr. Eric George. Dr. George and a builder named Roland Von Kurnatowski teamed up to give the theater a $13 million facelift. It is definitely the most beautiful theater I’ve ever seen. It’s as you would expect an old theater to look back in it’s heyday. The walls, ceilings, doors etc. are all very ornate. It really is an amazing place.
Precisely at 8:00pm, Big Something took the stage to open the show. I had already geared up. My two Nikon cameras dangled from my BlackRapid straps and I talked with the two security guys, who were posted in the photo pit and were extremely friendly. They shared little tidbits about the goings on at the Orpheum with me while we waited.
Big Something, having only 45 minutes for their set, wasted no time and went straight to one of their heaviest hitting songs titled, ”Waves.” It may be the song that dives deepest into the slightly darker themes that carry throughout their recently released album, “Tumbleweed.” It’s a song about sporadic inspiration that sometimes comes in the darker times in our lives. It’s no secret that some of the best art is produced when the creator is having a rough go of it. The riff is super heavy, just the way I like it. Nick MacDaniels’ vocals are bright and soar above the deeper tones of the music. It’s definitely a personal favorite of mine. Cameron Grogan (lights/sound) appropriately flooded the stage with blue light, reinforcing the aquatic theme of the title.
Next up was “Love Generator,” a very upbeat and danceable tune that portrays people as machines that can find their humanity through loving each other. The lyrics urge the audience to feel the love coming from the sounds being produced onstage by the band. It’s always a crowd pleaser and kind of a mission statement about what Big Something is all about. Love.
There was some love generated for Doug in the crowd as well, as a few people hip to a BS show chanted “Doug! Doug!” during the breakdown where Doug’s bass line is the focal point of the music.
The band moved quickly into a song that was made to be played in New Orleans. It’s the tale of a legendary voodoo priestess, from Manchac Swamp in Louisiana, named Julia Brown. Julia was a hateful old woman, despised by her neighbors, who had the ability to predict cataclysmic events in the area. The legend goes that on the day before she died, Julia Brown said “one day I’m gonna die, and I’m going to take you all with me.” Her last prophecy came true, and as they were committing her body to the ground a hurricane came and wiped out everyone.
The band changed gears and slowed the pace down a bit with a cover of The Beatles “Dear Prudence.” (first played by the band earlier this year at their album release party on 2-25-17) This was the highlight of their set for me and a lot of the crowd as well. The people I talked to at the break mentioned it specifically and really dug it.
To end their set, Big Something chose a traditional encore song for them that goes by the name of “Amanda Lynn.” Nick plays ‘a mandolin’ for this one and that’s no doubt the inspiration of character the song is about. Ironically, the narrator goes on about how he had a little too much to drink that night, and though he thinks he may be in love with her, he can’t remember the name of the girl he met. They always jam hard on this song and everyone gets a chance to showcase their individual talents in solos for a bit.
After a short break, it was on to the main event, Umphrey’s McGee! I had never seen these guys in person before and I was really excited to get my first taste of what they were like live and right there in front of me. They certainly did not disappoint!
Their first song was “North Route.” A bright piano intro gives way to a hard charging, dirty guitar riff that just doesn’t let up for the entire song. They were super tight right from the beginning.
“North Route” moved right into a nice jam to begin ‘Out of Order.” The drums and bass lay down a nice groove to make your head bob while Jake and Brendan really dig in to their guitars. The lyrics suggest that things might not be great at the time, but they leave it open to the listener to decide what exactly those things might be.
Next came “Speak Up.” It’s got a funky groove to it but the lyrics tell a melancholy tale about an on and off again relationship where maybe the people should have said the things they wanted to say before things went amiss. The infectious groove continued into an extended jam that finally peaked with some incredible guitar work that did not lack at all for emotional content. I’m not sure if I took any pictures there or if I just raged it.
They brought it way down to a spacey section to let everyone cool off a bit before launching into “Believe The Lie.” This was my favorite of the set. It’s got a great vocal melody and lyrically it gives you a lot to think about.
“You can lead with all new lines
If you believe in what you say
And life can be just as you make it”
It’s definitely a song that will be stuck in my head for a while.
The last song of the set was an instrumental called “Great American.” It has several movements ranging from nice guitar melodies, to funky drums and bass, to just good old fashioned jamming. Brendan assured everyone that they would be back soon to play another set for us and the band and the audience took a break.
I found my way to a smoke and another beverage at set break. I also bumped into the crew I travelled with and Nick and Jesse from Big Something by the merch tables. Everyone was all smiles as we caught up a bit more. Not having seen the BS guys in a while due to their busy touring schedule, and sharing this amazing night together had everyone in high spirits.
There were also some ladies in special box seats to the right of the stage. They were in New Orleans for Sarah Elizabeth’s bachelorette weekend! They were having a ton of fun and I got a chance to chat with a couple of them before the show and during set break. It just so happened that they were also from North Carolina and knew my friends Big Something as well. So Sarah, Kay, Bri, Shea, Aija, AJ, Ashley, Angela, Rachel, Chelsea, Sydney, Desi Rae, and Alex: I hope you guys enjoyed the rest of your weekend! Congrats to Sarah!
Sadly, I could not return to the photo pit for the second set. Them’s the rules! But it was nice to have a whole set to get my shots. A lot of bands give you three songs and you’re gone. So cheers to Umphrey’s for being kind to us photographers! But, being out front gave me a great opportunity to get shots of Umphrey’s amazing light show. Waffles does a great job!
Second set began with “Miss Tinkle’s Overture.” A long jammed out instrumental in which the guitar players really showed off their abilities. They shred on this song, hard!
Brendan took a second after ‘Miss Tinkle’s’ to address the crowd and gauge their excitement by asking “How you guys doing out there, huh?” The crowd responded with loud cheers and clapping. He could tell it was a good night and continued as he peered into the crowd shielding his eyes from the bright lights, “It feels rowdy. It smells rowdy.”
“Red Tape” was up next. It has a kind of 80’s synth vibe to me. Nice and catchy. Again, despite it’s lyrical content which contrasts with the upbeat-ness of the music with a tale of impending loss.
And now we come to “Utopian Fir.” A song that alternates between a nice smooth melody and super choppy and fast guitar licks. The lyrics suggest glowing and a certain smell in the air. “Fir” are a type of tree. I’ll let you decipher this one on your own. Out of nowhere the band busts into “Sad But True” by Metallica. The crowd erupted! After a recent cover and subsequent video of “…And Justice For All” we all thought we about to see some of that fire happen again. Just as the opening “Hey!” was uttered, the band went straight back into “Utopian Fir” on the very next beat. There was an audible “AWWWW!” from the audience, myself included. It seems they had fooled us. Shortly thereafter, the band jammed out a smooth instrumental of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” which seemed to get everyone moving. I’m dancing to it in my chair as I write this, in fact.
Wife Soup, came next. It’s musically a really nice song. Sprinkled liberally with some virtuoso style guitar thats separated by a chugging riff during the verses. It’s got a dreamy, lazy feeling to it. And the lyrics suggest that feeling. We were deep into the second set at this point and the band and the crowd were both well warmed up. It gave the band a chance to relax and let the song happen naturally. None of us were in a hurry to go anywhere.
My favorite song of the night came after. “When the World is Running Down You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.” Thats an idea I think we all can relate to in these times. And as music fans, that’s exactly what we’re doing when we go out and celebrate life with our favorite bands and our friends. Even if things seem like the same old thing, we should make the best of it and continue living as best we can.
“40’s Theme is such a fun song.” It basically about drinking 40’s and eating too much food off of the grill. All that nonsense is just an excuse to get to an epic jam to close out the song. I love it!
The band says goodnight and takes their encore break at this point. The crowd was still very much into it and gave them an enthusiastic curtain call.
The two part encore was Much Obliged > Hajimenashite. A fitting way to end the night as the song asks how we can make moments last. I know we all wished this one would last just a bit longer.
*Thanks to: Umphreys McGee and Big Something for giving us all an amazing night of music. To my buds Todd, Jeremy, and Fogarty for the good times.
**And special thanks to Nick MacDaniels. The busiest guy I’ve ever seen and you always make sure I’m taken care of when I come to shoot your shows. You’re the fuckin man!
Recordings of both bands’ performances can be found on Livedownloads.com