There were a lot of great events in Denver over the 4th of July weekend, but Umphrey’s McGee’s double header at Red Rocks was by far one of the best in town. Over the course of two nights, they shared the stage – and packed the house – with the psychedelic sounds of Sinkane, Dweezil Zappa, The Main Squeeze, and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.
There may have been multiple openers, but Dweezil Zappa’s brilliant performance was hands-down our favorite, despite the unfortunate reminder of the feud surrounding the Zappa family. The Zappa Family Trust has recently forced Dweezil to abandon his established touring name “Zappa Plays Zappa” which he’s used for over a decade. In a mix of retaliation-meets-comedy, the familiar monicker has been replaced by “Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants” and he did just that. He and his band took us back through the decades by playing over 50 covers ranging from Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” dispersed through familiar renditions of Frank Zappa classics.
Umphrey’s McGee definitely showed the love as they opened up the first set of the weekend with the rock ’n’ roll meets gospel tune “Glory.” Next they played one of their classic songs “In The Kitchen”, featuring a jam of Johnny Cash’s “Cocain Blue’s” mixed into theballad. Controversy aside, Dweezil sat in with the band, playing guitar during “Utopian Fir” and staying for vocals on his father’s nursery rhyme-inspired song “Muffin Man”.
There was a nice surprise during set break as a fireworks display serendipitously popped up behind the stage like it was meant for the show. As the grand finale was in full force, Umphrey’s made their epic return to stage. The second set came in hot with “Bridgeless”, leading into “2x2” which featured a “Star Bangled Banner” tease as well as Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” As if that wasn't enough, lighting designer Jefferson Waful’s full and vibrant light display added to the electrifying visual experience. His imaginative use of every color in the spectrum along with perfect timing make him one of the best lighting designers in the industry – great enough for fans of the group to know him by name. Did we mention he directed Umphrey’s McGee’s rock documentary “Reel to Real?”
Our favorite part of the night was when the disco-era, funk driven sounds of “Booth Love” erupted from stage. They then transitioned into “Miss Tinkles Overture”, a tune created out of an inside joke about keyboardist Joel Cummins accidentally peeing on his pillow in the back of the tour van during the group’s early years. We last saw Umphrey’s McGee when we rang in the new year with them at the Fillmore Auditorium, and celebrating with them again during this 4th of July weekend was truly an amazing experience. We’re anxious for their next tour announcement, and curious to see when they’ll be returning to Colorado. You know we'll be there, sharing that “Umph Love!”
Written by Andrew Rios and Kellie Affolder