Front Row Focus | Concert Review: Marcus King Band / Umphrey's McGee (February 16, 2018)

Concert Review: Marcus King Band / Umphrey's McGee (February 16, 2018)

February 23, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

ARTIST:  Marcus King Band / Umphrey's McGee

VENUE:  US Cellular Center, Asheville, NC

DATE:  February 16, 2018

Review by: Caleb Calhoun

Photos by:  David Simchock

Umphrey's McGee - Asheville, NCUmphrey's McGee - Asheville, NC© Copyright David Simchock The Late Train to Umphrey’s McGee

It’s about halfway through Umphrey’s second set and my friends and I are perched in the back corner of the US Cellular Center - dancing, sweating, loving, melting we are lost in this full-body activation experience and hanging on for dear life. I sit for a few moments to collect my thoughts and find that my typewriter has been hijacked for poetic purposes, but I need the break anyway.

Jesus, what an event. I have to be honest, I’m not an Umphreek. In fact, I’ve only ever seen them once, at Lock’n, and while I enjoyed the hell out of what they did there I was clearly unprepared for the kind of energy they bring to an indoor show. In all transparency, as excited as I was about Umphrey’s, it was the Marcus King Band set that I had really been looking forward to.

I’ve seen King himself collaborate with other local musicians and I’ve been enjoying his music for some time now, but I had yet to see him with his band and I was not disappointed. He sounds like Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers if both of those bands trajectories had never tapered off. Some witchy blend of southern rock and psychedelia that fades in and out, King’s guitar cutting through the commotion and redirection like the beacons of the freight ferries outside of Milwaukee slicing their way through the Lake Michigan fog.


Marcus King Band - Asheville, NCMarcus King Band - Asheville, NC© Copyright David Simchock
About this time I run into Patrick Armitage (formerly of Atmosphere and Jon Stickley Trio) and I mention that his roommate Dean Mitchell, MKB saxophonist and Asheville bad-ass, is looking snazzy in his baby blue, rose-adorned sport coat. Armitage laughs and tells me that Mitchell is sponsored by the company that makes his jackets.

The next day I am running down the story, texting around for phone numbers and getting the info straight from the horse's mouth. The company, Shinasty, happened upon Mitchell randomly and hired him to model one of their sport coats. The shoot went so well they ended up sponsoring him full time, and what a sponsorship to have.
Marcus King Band - Asheville, NCMarcus King Band - Asheville, NC© Copyright David Simchock
But enough about the fashion asides, there is a show going on. What am I even doing here? The things we ate earlier are making it difficult to focus, I’m dancing in the crowd but wondering if I should be banging out words on the typewriter. Did I come here to do a job or just to tie one on and dance?

Truth be told it’s a little bit of both. This job gives me plenty of excuses to enjoy myself, and I don’t usually need any to begin with. As MKB draws to a close the crowd goes wild. This kid, this band is going places - won’t be long before they are headlining these USCC gigs themselves.

Then it’s all about the waiting. The house lights are on, the house music blaring, and the UM stage-hands are tuning up the instruments for what feels like years, decades even. At 9:15 precisely the lights dim and the first notes ring out. It’s time for the main event, time for my ignorance at thinking MKB was going to be the star to be slapped right out of me.

Only a few minutes in and I am already blown away. The energy level, the raw power of the instruments is overwhelming. I’m in the photo pit and typing away, trying to record how it feels, to me, right now - hair blown back, lights and colors exploding all around me, surrounded by strange friends - this is why I go to live music, this is why I do what I do.

Umphrey's McGee - Asheville, NCUmphrey's McGee - Asheville, NC© Copyright David Simchock About halfway through the first set my friends and I decide to head up to the back of the auditorium to take in the light show better. The new configuration for the USCC is perfect, it feels almost intimate, and the sound is vastly improved. We go all the way back to the top corner and claim some space to dance - seats or no seats this isn’t a show you can exactly sit through.

The lighting has me at a loss for words. Intelligent and expansive without being tacky or over-the-top, I can honestly say it was the most intricate, well-designed light show that I have ever seen.

The lights blast their way across the stage, creating planes, triangles, trapezoids. They blast their way around the building illuminating the sea of people in the pit. They blast their way to the back of the venue, playing patterns on the back wall.

The music, the lighting, the vibe... it’s tasteful and overbearing at the same time, somewhere directly in between fine art and watching unicorns have sex with rainbows.

And, if you read my work than you know how I feel about this, it’s two full sets of music. None of this one long set and then gone shit, no, Umphrey’s is here to rock and one gets the impression that if the local statutes allowed it they would stay up there all night.

Umphrey's McGee - Asheville, NCUmphrey's McGee - Asheville, NC© Copyright David Simchock

As they finish out the evening and I collect my people, typewriter, and start working on getting one of these extra expensive Uber’s, I run into my friend Luna, Umphreek for life and here for her 60th or 70th UM show. She asks me how I liked it, hoping that somehow I felt what she feels, hoping that we had a new connection with her favorite band.

I smile and hug her and tell her the only thing I can think of... “Luna, I caught the late train to Umphrey’s but now that I’m on it, I don’t see myself getting off anytime soon.”

Marcus King Band - Asheville, NCCaleb Calhoun© Copyright David Simchock Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music in a myriad of bars and venues across the southeast. He is an author and journalist and lives on Asheville's South Slope with his woodland mermaid Dr. Gonzo and a bunch of roommates. He can be reached at







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