Umphrey’s McGee Kick Off 25th Anniversary Tour At The 9:30 Club

By Stu Kelly / January 14, 2023

Rage. Rest. Repeat. That’s been the unofficial motto for eclectic improv-rock band Umphrey’s McGee over the last 25 years. From humble beginnings as students at the University of Notre Dame/DePaul University/Berklee College of Musicto becoming regulars at renowned venues like Red Rocks, UM have certainly carved out a unique path for itself and accumulated a die-hard fanbase that has amassed a global footprint. In 2023, now a quarter of a century later, Umphrey’s are showing absolutely no signs of slowing down as they’re still touring relentlessly and reeling in the success of their most recent full-length studio album, 2022’s Asking For A Friend. In true celebratory fashion, Umphrey’s announced a tour celebrating their milestone anniversary with nearly 30 shows in cities all across the country. The tour kicked off with a two-night run at one of the most revered indoor venues in the country, Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club

On Thursday, January 12 UM kicked off the run to a more than eager crowd and immediately dropped into the instrumental piece “The Triple Wide,” which paved way for Asking For A Friend number “Pure Saturation.” The fan-favorite “Professor Wormbog” set up a “Cemetary Walk sandwich” with “Cemetery Walk 1 > Got Your Milk (Right Here) > Exit Signs, Cemetery Walk II” which rounded out the first set. Throughout the first set, it was evident the band was gelling effortlessly and still riding the high they achieved during their New Year’s run at The Roxy in Atlanta. With little to no actual verbal communication on stage, it’s amazing how well the band can communicate through their music with their instruments. The band’s ability to link up together culminated in a wave of energy that crashed over the crowd and rolled back to the band on stage as if ocean water were breaking on a coastline. 


During the second set, the band returned to the stage after a quick set break and immediately paid homage to legendary British guitar player Jeff Beck, who tragically passed away three days earlier. UM revived their cover of “Led Boots” for the first time in nearly eight years. Beck originally released the song on his 1976 studio album, Wired. “Plunger” surfaced next and the band took this version deep into musical parts unknown as it clocked in at nearly 22 minutes long. Multi-instrumentalist Joel Cummins added many different layers of improvising in this version. Cummins left everything he had on stage that night as not only was he fully dialed in but he was also celebrating his birthday. Cummins is as versatile as any pianist comes. He can be an inspiration for improvisation as well as acting as an anchor that other members lean on when they need to find their way back to familiar territory.

The band kept this momentum in full swing and took the next number for a walk as well. Asking For A Friend’s “Small Strides” clocked in at over 14 minutes which paved way for the beloved anthem “Ringo,” which also eclipsed the 21-minute mark. Cummins’ instrumental number “Kimble” surfaced next with the traditional beautiful opening portion on his piano before the rest of the band dropped in and took form. “Push The Pig” closed out the second set leaving fans yearning for more. After a quick encore break, the band returned and Bayliss dedicated the first “Mantis Ghetts” since August 31, 2019, to Chris Mitchell, the band’s front-of-house engineer, who was also celebrating his birthday that night. “1348” put an exclamation point on an incredible first night of music.

Setlist: 1/12/23 9:30 Club Washington, D.C.

Set One: The Triple Wide > Pure Saturation, Professor Wormbog > Cemetery Walk 1 > Got Your Milk (Right Here) > Exit Signs, Cemetery Walk II

Set Two: Led Boots, Plunger > Small Strides, Ringo > Kimble > Push The Pig

Encore: Mantis Ghetts > 1348

The second night at the 9:30 Club opened up with the energy-driven instrumental “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” which featured the usual piercing guitar soloing duels between Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger. The crowd was reciprocating the energy radiating from the stage as it seemed the audience was fully locked in and present at the moment. No matter how many times “Tinkle’s” finds its way into a setlist, it’s always well received. “Anchor Drops” found its way into “Rocker Part 2″ which showcased some of Kris Myers‘ adept ability behind the kit. As a drummer, Myers is on a completely different level. Often times it’s hard to fathom what fans are lucky enough to witness night over night when Myers takes a seat behind the tubs and skins. The sheer power and force that radiates from his contributions are second to none. Myers showed promise as a drummer at an early age when he got his first drum kit at the age of eight. He went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Jazz Drumming from DePaul University. In 2011 Myers was rightfully honored with the title of “Best Jam Band Drummer” by DRUM Magazine.

“It Doesn’t Matter” clocked in at just over 13 minutes before “Looks” > “Always October” > “Crucial Taunt” made way for “Roctopus” to close out the first set. The second night of the DC run was sold out and the restlessness during the set break was palpable. Just as the energy began to bubble, a moment of relief ensued when the band returned to the stage for the second set. An ambient, loose, intro of brief improve kept the crowd attentive before dropping into another fan-favorite “Nothing Too Fancy” the namesake which inspired the band’s independent record label that was launched in 2014. The thunderous bass notes from Ryan Stasik came crashing down as “Pony” was relishing in the moment. 

“I Don’t Know What I Want” was executed beautifully and it carved the way for one of the most exploratory songs of the evening with “Bridgeless”. Cinniger let this version rip as he was walking up and down his fretboard with vigor. To say Jake is a talented guitar player is doing him a disservice, he’s easily one of the best-living guitar players in his respected genre. A true virtuoso of his instrument you never know when he’s going to blow a gasket and open it up but when it does happen, you better strap in. “Bridgeless” acted as one of those moments. Cinniger joined the band in September of 2000. With his addition to the band, Jake deepened the Umphrey’s sound, and also contributed a large repertoire of original music, much of which comprised the bulk of the catalog from his previous band, Ali Baba’s Tahini.

The silky number “Night Nurse” showcases the sextet fully locked in and moving as one cohesive unit. Taking their time building the layers of improv, this version clocked in at just over 12 minutes long. “Hajimemashite” featured Bayliss’ solid vocals and acted as a perfect landing gear. While this version was just over five minutes, not a second was wasted and the audience was fully encapsulated in the moment. In true UM fashion, the band broke out a surprise with the reprise of “Nothing Too Fancy,” which bookended the second set. After scrapping “August” from the setlist (most likely due to the encroaching curfew), the band returned to the stage for an extra tight version of “Remind Me.” When it was all said and done, Umphrey’s blew the roof off of the 9:30 Club and opened this tour with a statement. The message was clear: they’re here, they’re ready, they’re going to bring the heat night after night and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to catch them live at the moment. The band is firing from all cylinders. 

Setlist: 1/13/23 9:30 Club Washington, D.C.

Set One: Miss Tinkle’s Overture > Anchor Drops, Rocker Part 2, It Doesn’t Matter, Looks, Always October, Crucial Taunt, Roctopus

Set Two: Nothing Too Fancy > I Don’t Know What I Want, Bridgeless, Night Nurse, Hajimemashite, Nothing Too Fancy

Encore: Remind Me

About the author

Stu Kelly