Dopapod and Umphrey’s McGee in Wilkes-Barre, October 30, 2014
Photography by Steven Philips StSteven.com, Story by Jessica Bush
After traveling up the bleak Pennsylvania Turnpike for what felt like an eternity, I began to settle into the feeling that I was once again about to be dumfounded by the effortless talent of six masterful musicians. Those who know me know that there is nothing that soothes my soul more than a David Gilmour guitar riff or a John Bonham drum solo. I never believed a group of present-day musicians could affect me in such a similar way. That was until I discovered Umphrey’s McGee. I will never forget the day I first heard Umphrey’s McGee’s ripe but refreshing sound. They stormed the stage beginning their set with an unforgettable rendition of “Breathe,” the first track off of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. This moment has changed me in such a way that it has expanded my often close-minded choice of music and opened the door to exploring a genre of music I had since been absent from.
Upon arriving in the quaint city of Wilkes-Barre, a city that is drastically different from my home in Philadelphia, I was forced to realize that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The brisk air complemented this dreary city where the only signs of life dwelled in the city square. This square, where the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts was located, was lined with trees adorned with blue lights that consequently conjured up wintery memories filled with daunting icicles and unforgiving cold weather. Despite this apparent misery, I noticed an inviting energy that radiated from the bright lights of the Kirby Center as well as from the crowd that began to assemble out front of the venue. At this moment, the cold weather was no longer at the forefront of my mind.
Given that the show fell on the eve of Halloween, I was rather shocked at the lack of costumes. Not only were there not many costumes but the crowd was much smaller than I had expected at a show for Umphrey’s McGee with Dopapod as the opening act. Although this initially was quite concerning, my opinion on this matter quickly changed upon entering the doors as Dopapod just began their set.
For those who did not see Dopapod, you simply missed out. As I walked down the center aisle, I was drawn into Luke Stratton’s mesmerizing lightshow. Not only was the combination of colors captivating, but the timing of said colors in relation to the music was flawless. For instance, the setlist seemed to contain a balance between powerfully progressive tunes to eerie carnival-esque melodies. Stratton perfectly amplified each transition by corresponding the lightshow to the song present. As Dopapod’s set continued, I was impressed by their musicianship as individuals as well as a collective unit. Considering Halloween was in the air, the eerie but electrifying sounds produced by Eli Winderman’s keyboard (reminiscent of the great organist Ray Manzarek) generated a haunting energy in the theatre. From Rob Compa’s commanding guitar riffs to Scotty Zwang’s bone-crushing drum solos with Chuck Jones coolly pulling it all together with his smooth bass lines, the show exceeded my expectations tenfold. I cannot wait to see them again at District 9 at the end of this month.
Riding on that haunting energy generated by Dopapod, Umphrey’s came out and commanded our attention from the get go with a portion of “You Got the Wrong Guy” into, one of my absolute favorites, “Push the Pig.” The tone had been set for two Ryan Stasik-inspired sets composed of highly technical progressive rock with a slice of funk on the side. Guided by the breathtaking lightshow thanks to Jefferson Waful, Umphrey’s took us on a ride that astounded the senses with their surprising but structured improvisations leaving one to wonder: how can one band gel so well together? While the first set’s song choices were thought of as mellow by some, the second set satisfied the hunger of a crowd who had been loudly chanting, yelling and demanding more Umphrey’s. Opening with “Eat” (another favorite of mine), I, along with and assuming by the reaction of the crowd, was having my hunger slowly satiated. Perhaps one of the most memorable moments was when the crowd heard Jake Cinninger begin to play the hypnotizing George Harrison guitar riff found in The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” The crowd all came together to sing along with Brendan Bayliss and the rest of the band to lyrics whose repetitive nature generates the obsessive tone that John Lennon sought after. As the show drew to a close with Ryan Stasik as Waldo and with the smooth soulful melody of “Booth Love,” I couldn’t help but think about a friend of mine who once said “Umphrey’s McGee makes you feel things that you never thought you could feel before.” I reflected on the various feelings experienced during their sets and realized… he was right. I, once again, felt at home thanks to the enthusiastic energy from the crowd, the ambiance of the setting, and, most of all, this band that I have come to love and cannot get enough of.
Yes my face has been melted.
Yes I need more.
Why am I not in Boston?