On Sunday Feb. 9, the band Umphrey’s McGee played Rochester’s Harro East Ballroom. They didn’t wear kilts, they weren’t jolly nor stout, and their music didn’t take on the lumpy contour of phrases like “Humpty Dumpty” or “Dunder Mifflin”. They did, however, bring the house down.

Umphrey’s McGee is a jam band, which means it caters to a niche of concertgoers and musicians who celebrate extensive improvisation, drawn-out grooves and trippy light shows. Like it or not, jam bands are here to stay, and Umphrey’s McGee enjoys its status as heavy hitters in the jam scene, along with other bands-you’ve-probably-never-heard-of-that-still-sell-out-theaters like moe., String Cheese Incident, the Disco Biscuits and, of course, Phish.

If you haven’t yet figured it out from the band names, the jam scene also celebrates dorkiness. Each jam band has its own niche, whether it’s the Disco Biscuits recreating EDM with live instruments, or moe. recreating electric guitar wankery with electric guitars. But throughout the scene runs a tongue-in-cheek goofiness that comes with being able to make a living out of melting faces and being a Jedi on the guitar. As the jam scene’s progressive rock and metal representatives, Umphrey’s McGee bears the responsibility that comes with it – having a name as unassuming as Umphrey’s McGee, so as to let everyone know, “Hey, we’re in it for the fun.”

Now on to the concert. While  at the core a progressive rock experience, an Umphrey’s McGee show is a display in music-genre acrobatics. Within one show – no, one song –  Umphrey’s McGee cover rock, pop, disco, country, rockabilly, jazz, and just about every subgenre that results from the union of the aforementioned styles of music. It’s a move that would be dismissed as a tactless gimmick were any other band to try their hand at it. However, Umphrey’s McGee can do it because its level of musicianship is so damn exquisite. Think of it this way: Umphrey’s McGee knows music like Seth MacFarlane knows pop culture.

Rochester’s Umphrey’s McGee show offered everything I could have hoped for in an Umphrey’s concert. The band’s set was dynamic. As a rock band, Umphrey’s harnesses the power to resort to melt-your-face-off mode whenever they so please. After all, the people love nothing more than self-indulgent guitar solos, especially from guitarists who model their lead tone after the great fire-breathing dragon of rock n’ roll – a figure who’s ingrained in our collective unconscious even though he’s annoying as hell. Thankfully, Umphrey’s took the high road and chose not to exploit our Jungian fantasies in the form of bad guitar solos. Instead, the band grooved as hard as it rocked, emulating Steely Dan and the Bee Gees with the conviction of Randy Rhoads on Crazy Train.

The live set did justice to Umphrey’s snakey and complex song structures, as each member of the band was on his instrumental game. The band had a genuine rapport with the audience, which is always important in the jam scene, where the crowd feeds off of the musicians and the musicians feed off of the crowd. Finally, the lights, while obviously not a Chris Kuroda-level spectacle, brought the music and the vibe together.

I’ll be honest, I came to the Harro East Ballroom with my reservations, as I knew I would not be getting the transcendent experience I received when Phish played Blue Cross Arena. When I left, I knew I had just spent three hours at the slickest party on Earth, hosted by a bunch of musical geniuses who know how to groove their hearts out. As far as parties go, it was pretty freakin’ spectacular.

Howard is a member of the class of 2017.

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