They’re an American Band: Umphrey’s McGee in Detroit Rock City

(All images courtesy of Grateful Gypsies)

Memorial Day weekend is usually a time when I dust off the camping gear and make the drive to Three Sisters Park for Summer Camp Music Festival. With the festival postponed until August, I had to make alternative plans for the holiday weekend. Thankfully a little rock band known as Umphrey’s McGee announced two socially-distanced rock shows in my hometown of Detroit Rock City. Here’s a little recap of the 2-night throwdown in Motown.
Originally, the shows were supposed to happen at a pop-up venue in downtown Detroit, right along the river where Joe Louis Arena used to be. All I had to do from my parents’ house to get there was take a left on Jefferson and drive 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the shows had to get moved up the road to Pontiac. Not exactly Detroit Rock City anymore, and a 45-minute drive. Slight bummer, sure. But us Umphreaks know exactly what to do with lemons.
The day of the show it was a miserable 45 degrees and rainy. As the viral internet tune goes – “It’s so cold in the D.” We did a bit of pre-gaming at my folks’ place with some old friends and did a little anti-rain dance. We hit the road and made the drive up to Pontiac, arriving just in time to slam a beer in the lot and get in during the first notes of “Smell the Mitten.” A nice nod to my home state as well as to Spinal Tap. This one goes to 11!
This was a PODS show (Personal Outdoor Dance Space), with 4-6 people allowed in each pod. They were kind of like mini-steel cages from a WWE match, which I was fine with wearing my Ultimate Warrior tye-dye (yes, such a thing exists). Speaking of wrestling, I think it’s safe to say that Umphrey’s McGee is still the undisputed champion of face-melting rock. \mm/
After a run through “The Linear” into “Mad Love,” we got treated to a tasty “Der Bluten Kat” sandwich. I freaking love that song. It’s one of those where I know my neck will be sore the next day from so much head banging. It was a 6-song first set full of improv – exactly the kind of Umph that I love. Speaking of love, how about that sunset we got on Friday night?! Mother Nature treated us to a light show on par with Ben Factor‘s work on the boards all weekend. Seriously, dude kills it!
I’m not the biggest “Plunger” fan, but the one that opened the second set took us to the far reaches of outer space. After 15 minutes or so, it finally melted into the smooth baby-making grooves of “Booth Love.” The dance party just kept on rolling into a massive “Wappy Sprayberry.” My Apple watch thought I was working out because I was getting down so hard. Burned off some of those calories from Bell’s beers and Detroit coney dogs.
After a solid rendition of “Red Tape,” UM took us on one more epic journey with a “Utopian Fir” that included a serious tease of Tool’s “46 & 2.” When your favorite band covers your other favorite band, it’s a good night. There was more head banging in the encore slot with “Puppet String.” You know we had to get a little bit gangster in Detroit, which is exactly what the band did with a little tease of “Regulate” by Warren G.
It was my first show since seeing Umphrey’s at the Drive-Inn outside Chicago last September. There were lots of hugs, lots of smiles, a few tears, and tons of fist pumping and head banging. Our rock show is no joke! As one reviewer on wrote after this show – “Eat queefs. Umphrey’s fucks.”
Here’s the setlist for night one, as noted on All Things:
Set 1: Smell the Mitten, The Linear > Mad Love, Der Bluten Kat > Sociable Jimmy > Seasons > Der Bluten Kat
Set 2: Plunger > Booth Love > Wappy Sprayberry > Red Tape, Utopian Fir[1]
Encore: Puppet String[2]
[1] with Forty-Six & 2 (Tool) jam and quote
[2] with I Keep Forgettin’ (Michael McDonald) and Regulate (Warren G) teases

Saturday was a beautiful day in Detroit.

I was feeling a bit rough around the edges after staying up late and raging with the crew. As the band instructs us, though – Rage. Rest. Repeat. I had some friends in town crashing at my folks’ place, including the legend himself Watermelon Steve. He was on a mission to chug 12 beers that day in order to earn three Taco Bell tacos. These are the kinds of friends I have. There’s a Facebook group called Beer Chugging McGee that you should join if you’re not in it already. Seriously, it’s hilarious.
We got to the show much earlier on day two and had some solid time to hang out in the lot and enjoy a few adult beverages. The show was officially sold out on Saturday night, but there were still some empty pods around. I guess some people bailed when they moved the shows up the road to Pontiac. It was fine with us, as we got our crew all together spaced out across a few pods. The second night opened up with “Slacker,” an UM song that I can very much relate to. So this slacker fumbles through another day…
The rock hands were up for the next one as they went right into “1348.” The dude wearing a jersey with that very number on it sure was excited. Next up was “Women Wine and Song,” which used to be a bathroom break song for me but was huge on this particular night. It melted into a beautiful rendition of “End of the Road.” It’s one of those songs that my wife refers to as “pretty Umphrey’s.”
They turned it right back up to 11 with a gigantic “Domino Theory” followed by “Prowler.” I always want them to segue into “Glory” from there, but they took us into “Whistle Kids” this time around. Interesting choice, gentlemen. It worked out, though, especially since they kept it going into a set closing “Andy’s Last Beer.” It wasn’t Steve’s last beer as he got in chug #12 before set break. Enjoy those tacos, Watermelon Man.
It got chilly as soon as the sun went down, so my rainbow unicorn onesie came out again. It was seriously the warmest clothing item I had in storage at my parents’ place, and it definitely came in handy this weekend. I got lots of compliments on it, too. Unicorns at rock shows are an interesting sight I guess.
Set two kicked off with the first “Leave Me Las Vegas” in over 600 shows. The studio version just dropped as a preview of their upcoming album. That quick little ditty led right into “All in Time,” and the crowd went wild. They didn’t finish it but instead took us into a dark and heavy “Push the Pig.”
We all needed a little “Room to Breathe” after that. Next up was a one-two punch of “It Doesn’t Matter” into “Remind Me.” That song freaking rocks at the end. The second set came to a close with the end of “All in Time,” causing tears of joy from this guy as well as several other Umphreaks in the crowd. What a beautiful moment.
It being Memorial Day weekend and all, it was a fitting time to bust out Grand Funk Railroad‘s classic “We’re an American Band” for the first time ever. Ben Factor crushed it with the patriotic red, white and blue lights. ‘Merica. As if that wasn’t good enough, they played all three parts of “Pay the Snucka” to send us off into the chilly Michigan night. It sure was warm around the Umphrey’s fire, though!
Here’s the setlist from night two:
Set 1: Slacker > 1348, Women Wine and Song > End of the Road, Domino Theory, Prowler > Whistle Kids > Andy’s Last Beer
Set 2: Leave Me Las Vegas > All In Time > Push the Pig, Room to Breathe, It Doesn’t Matter > Remind Me, All In Time
Encore: We’re An American Band[1] > Pay the Snucka
[1] debut, Grand Funk Railroad
All in all, it was an excellent weekend. Despite the inclement weather and the venue change, that lemonade ended up tasting pretty freaking good. My next UM show will be at Summer Camp in August. I can’t wait to get back to Three Sisters Park and rage with all you beautiful people again.
With lots of Umph Love,
Camp Counselor Sasha