WASHINGTON, August 2, 2013 — Not many acts in music today would attempt an electric light and music cover of Led Zeppelin’s “That’s The Way” 30 minutes into a show that would end up going well over 3 hours. In fact, not many electric light and music acts in the world today would consider the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts to be the ideal venue for their Washington D.C. show. But, then again, not many bands would call themselves Umphery’s McGee and Sound Tribe Sector 9.
On Thursday Night, Umphrey’s McGee and Sound Tribe Sector 9 arrived at the final, and largest, venue of their tour that had begun 18 days and 14 shows earlier in Louisville, KY. If they were at all tired from their rigorous schedule it certainly didn’t show. The electric light and music performance was a high energy dose of excellence that provided the crowd with a solid evening of entertainment.
As far as the venue for the last stop of their tour, anybody who has ever seen a show at Wolf Trap knows that the sound there is amazing. What was even more wonderful was that, one song into the show, Umphery’s McGee brought in a whole different set of instruments that they thought would take better advantage of the hard wood acoustics so unique to the Performing Arts Center at Wolf Trap.
That change alone made last night’s show unique among the 14 shows the bands have done in the last two weeks.
The two acts have traded opening and headlining the show on every stop of the tour. This practice might seem unconventional- certainly most tours have a defined headliner and an opening act- but when the show was underway it was plain to see why they chose to alternate. Both bands brought phenomenal acts and monstrously dedicated fan bases to Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
The fans were there in droves, representing an eclectic gathering of appreciative followers from across all walks of life. There were kids raving with glow sticks, girls twirling glow in the dark hula hoops, men in cowboy hats, more than a handful of older couples out on a date night, a flag twirler, balloons and bubbles, and more tie-dye than anyone could have counted.
It was, quite simply, Umphrey’s-McGee-and-Sound-Tribe-Sector-9-mania at Wolf Trap.
The show was scheduled to start at 7:00, and that was exactly when Umphrey’s McGee came out on stage. And when they did, they didn’t come out like U2. There were no elevators, no flashy lights, though there would be plenty of those momentarily. At seven o’clock, six men in perfectly normal street clothes walked out onto stage. Two of them were carrying guitars, one had a bass. The other two had seat consoles that were obviously integral to the act. At 7:02, they began to light up Vienna, VA with their show that comprised at least 30 lights panning all over the theater and constantly changing colors.
The band kept the stage for about an hour and a half, shooting beams of yellow and green and purple and blue and red light into the audience. Most of their sets were well over six or eight minutes long, and most were occasionally peppered with brief but powerful vocal sections. As the sun went down the act became more and more powerful. By the time Umphery’s had announced they only had time for one more song before Sound Tribe Sector 9 would take the stage, they had become almost celestial.
The band and the crowd shared an intense sense of community. At one point, the band asked that there be a round of applause for the road crew who had set up the stage for the show that evening. The audience erupted in applause for the team. But- and this is really the more interesting part- that was not the first time they had done so. Before the show even started the team had come out to set everything up and the crowd had spontaneously, of their own volition, cheered their appreciation for the men bringing the guitar to the stage.
Sound Tribe Sector 9 came on roughly around nine o’clock. Anyone who compared the two bands in three or four minutes YouTube videos the day before probably would not have seen a difference between the two of them. But spending the evening with the two, the differences became palpable. When STS9 came out, they mounted the electric light pyramid that their crew had erected, and began to rock.
One of the most amazing gifts of STS9 is the ability to multitask. The five members of the band who took the stage at 9:00 all had more than one thing going on in the act. There was a guitarist who also had a laptop in front of him. A guitarist who also had a Synthesizer at hand. One of their two drummers also had a laptop with him, and the synth player was also working at what looked to be a beat machine. The final member of the band, another drummer, was probably excused from the multiple instrument requirement based on how insanely well he was pounding out the drums throughout the evening.
Though they also used electric lights, their show was much different from the Umphery’s. Their lights were mostly pictures. Dancing cubes, rearranging symbology, fractal geometry, Tron-ish techy dancing red and blue blurs, and time lapsed images of cityscapes were just a few of the images that opened STS9’s show.
Unlike Umphery’s, STS9 was purely instrumental. Occasionally one of the guitarists would grab hold of a microphone and just check in to make sure the crowd was still into the concert. But for the most part, the only noises anyone heard in the second part of the evening was the music.
The most noticeable thing about the Umphery’s McGee and STS9 concert was also probably one of the easiest things to overlook: Everyone was dancing. Everyone. In their seats, in the aisles, on the lawn. Everyone who was there was having a wonderful time. Rarely do concerts produce a group of people in such consensus about one thing. They were all having fun. The Umphery’s McGee and STS9 concert was an epic, night long party, and an even bigger success.
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