Arriving at my first Red Rocks show of the summer always fills my soul with a sense of elation. Seeing the giant formations of Ship and Creation Rock cradling the most amazing amphitheater on the planet is something I’ll never grow tired of. Parking in Lower South can be a roll of the dice. It’s the area with the most pronounced Shakedown and this show was no different. All manner of wooks, puppy pullers, yuppies, and heads mingled on the red gravel paths formed by the rows of cars. Each year the fan base seems younger and younger particularly at Umphrey’s McGee shows. Dreadlocked boys lacking shirts and sometimes common sense peddle their wares. Items ranging from beer koozies to DMT are all easily available if you know what you are looking for. After meeting a few friends I headed in early to catch Delta Spirit.
I wandered up the ramp and found that the crowd was non-existent. In fact I literally walked all the way to the gate and inside with not so much as a pause. Inside, the first twenty or so rows saw a light scattering of people, which did little to instill my confidence that the show would sell out. Delta Spirit is a five-piece hailing from Brooklyn by way of Long Beach that look like they wandered out of a hipster version of an Abecrombie & Fitch catalog. Their indie sound although energetic felt somewhat misplaced in the lineup. They blend elements of electro-pop, folk, and rock with an almost Lo-Fi sensibility rooted in organic musicianship. Their live show was much heavier and punchier than their studio work. The melodic interplay of their vocals was definitely a highlight of the set. Having performed numerous times on television and at major U.S. festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza there is no question that Delta Spirit will make it to the mainstream. I’m just curious why their first time playing at Red Rocks was opening for prog jammers Umphrey’s McGee.
Dr. Dog took the famed stage playing an extended hour and fifteen minute set to the now substantially larger audience. Their “old-timey” cover photo on Relix a few years back, proclaiming them “America’s Next Great Band” did much to make me excited to see them live. However their performance put my enthusiasm at bay. Dr. Dog’s sound is a combination of rock and indie, but what flows forth from this group left many in the crowd again wondering why they were on the bill. They raged through their time with verocity and power. However by the end it was obvious that the crowd was getting antsy for the main event.
When Umphrey’s finally came out front I would say that anyone in the first fifty rows probably felt like they were in a capacity crowd. However the last third of Red Rocks was left wide open. The 6500 or so Umphreaks were treated to the show that this band has been trying to play at Red Rocks for years. It was a peak performance for a band that has attempted such a feat here for quite some time. The five members drifted out from beyond the smoke and to the stage as “In The Hall Of the Mountain King” (a song I’ve seen them perform live) blasted out of the PA. As the music subsided they opened the show with “Divisions.”
Set 1: Divisions*> The Floor, Loose Ends> 40’s Theme, In The Kitchen, Frankie Zombie, Miss Tinkle’s Overture
Set 2: The Triple Wide> 1348, Push the Pig> Comma Later, Glory> Divisions> Get In The Van, August> Big Heart> August, Thunderstruck**
Encore: Preamble> Mantis
*w/ In The Hall of the Mountain King played along to PA
**w/ Clayton Halsey on vocals
It would be a night where Umphrey’s McGee’s powerful prog rock bounced off the walls as Walful’s lights danced among the boulders. Everything about this show was intensely incredible and far and away the best they’ve played at Red Rocks ever. Save for a couple songs nothing they played was highly unusual or rare. It was just classic Umphrey’s playing at the top of their game. Fresh off performances at Summer Camp and Wakarusa their Colorado run was a destination event with a second night to follow at Chautauqua. The first set was straightforward by song choice, but the technical ferocity with which they executed their performance was enough to make your head spin. “The Floor” stretched on as the lights flickered over the Denver skyline. “In The Kitchen” was the host to a gargantuan jam with a simple visit to the refrain. Their homespun mashup of “Frankie Zombie” which included a nod to White Zombie, Pink Floyd, and Frankie Says was a definite peak for the first set. They closed with a sublime “Miss Tinkle’s” complete with pyrotechnics before adjourning to the backstage.
The second set felt more progressive in nature as the riff heavy jams percolated from the abyss. Myers blasted off on “1348”
“I’d like to dedicate this next song to the lovely the lady in the Axle Rose t-shirt over here… just makes me have faith in the world right there.” – Bayliss
“Push The Pig” saw some of the rowdiest and darkest jamming of the night, which was par for the course at this point. “Glory” was done with a tenderness that allowed everyone to finally catch their breath before they went back into the show opening “Divisions.” “Big Heart” was short, but a bust out of sorts having not been played in 371 shows. They invited Clayton Halsey up for their set closing version of AC/DC’s “Thunderstuck.”
Umphrey’s McGee came back to encore with “Preamble” into “Mantis.” Everything about this show was stellar, from the extensive energy put into the overall production to the musical execution by the band. UM is always good, but when they really focus they have the ability to be out of this world. Their show this year at Red Rocks should be marked as a climax when they finally accomplished something truly spectacular at this the most divine of venues.