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Sactown debut: Umphrey’s McGee at Harlow’s on Sunday

If you’re really bored (or a total setlist nerd who likes to look for cheeky cover songs), take a moment to peruse the meticulously curated archives of Umphrey’s McGee touring history. With a catalog of shows that numbers in the triple digits each year since 2000, you’ll find one California city that’s noticeably absent from any year in their history.

Any guesses? Well, you’re not reading a news site called the Stockton Press right now, are you?

They’ve tap danced around us before (San Francisco, Truckee, Tahoe, Chico, Santa Cruz), but Sunday’s show at Harlow’s will indeed be the increasingly popular jam jockeys’ first show in Sactown. Not only that, but if you look even closer at that touring history, Harlow’s will be one of the smaller rooms they’ve played in quite some time.


An evening with Umphrey’s McGee kicks off at 8:30 pm. Sunday, March 18 at Harlow’s, 2708 J Street. Tickets are $25. No opener is scheduled; Umph will play two sets of music with a break in between, as is customary at their brain busting shows. Dare I quote Lindol French: “See you on the dance floor.”

First off, we’ll award them advance excuse for a potential collective hangover. In case you’re not paying attention, March 18 is St. Patty’s Day +1, and this is a group that makes no mystery of their devotion to their Irish roots (see: band name), especially when you consider that they were founded at Notre Dame. Add to which, they’re playing a show on Saturday at the gorgeous Fox Theatre in Oakland.

The sprawling Fox is a prime example of the increasigly large size of venue they’ve become accustomed to playing throughout their meteoric rise up the jam band ranks, ever since receiving that somewhat dubious tag of “the next Phish;” sort of like a certain young’n we know and love kept getting tagged “the next Dylan.”

Turns out, Phish was the next Phish, which cleared that chatter and paved the way for Umphrey’s McGee to be the first Umphrey’s McGee.

To outsiders (and maybe insiders?), the jam band world can become very insular, and at times very homogenous. Haters will tell you that every song sounds like the same 15 minutes of noodly, disjointed chords – and even the lovers would have to admit that it can be hard to distinguish one bootleg show recording from another.

What sets these six Chicago-based wizards apart is they can pen a melodic and catchy tune with the best of them (and then wrap it up in a jam). Further, their level of talent is nothing short of jaw dropping, as is their willingness to jump through genres and time changes like rabid wolverines.

To surf through their available downloads, you could probably get enough cover songs to put together an awesome “Best of” album of the Beatles as easily as you could an anthology of hip hop or hair metal – and you could probably piece together “Dark Side of the Moon” from start to finish while finding a Rage Against the Machine or Smashing Pumpkins ditty for good measure.

And then there’s this.

But the playful covers are only moments of fun sprinkled in with their catalog of originals that enables them produce commercially accessible rock albums while simultaneously catering to those who want nothing more than enlarged guitar solos and improv sessions. They get funky, emotional, aggressive, passionate and chaotic – usually all within the same two and a half hours of sonic wonderment.

It’s easy to get consumed and stand in awe of the technical mastery and precision with which they operate, but they always bring you back to one important motto:

Partyin’ peeps’ll do it.

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