Honest Tune contributing writer and resident Umphrey’s McGee guru Brent Logan spent the better part of November traversing the country behind the driving force that is Umphrey’s McGee. Here are his perspectives on the band as they made stops in four cities.
November 16, 2007
photos by Brad Hodge / bradhodgephoto.com
The Friday night Nashville, Tennessee crowd was young and rowdy, and the band fed off the room’s energy from the start. They opened with a 19-minute version of "Wife Soup," a tune that has become a vehicle of exploration – one that showcases the strength of not only guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss, but also the cohesive rhythm section (Kris Myers-drum, Andy Farag-percussion, and Ryan Stasik-bass.)
"Partyin’ Peeps" gave in an obvious nod to the enthusiastic crowd, and gave way to a rarity, “The Pequod.” Jake was the only one playing the little-played song, which abruptly segued into “Hurt Bird Bath.” Know for it’s all out dance party jams, this version was more compact and featured brief “Star Wars theme” jam in the middle; it kept the whole venue dancing until a gorgeous reading of Bayliss’s "Example 1," a laid back tune that opens up into uncharted territory and can lead into almost anything. This time, one of the three new songs from this year was the recipient of such a segue, "Alex’s House." Possibly the best segue of the evening, it saw the band end set one with some incredible improv and kebyoardist Joel Cummins left to finish off the song by himself as the band left the stage one by one.
"Out of Order > Fussy Dutchman" opened the second set, was an 18 minute example of why people come see Umphrey’s McGee: great songwriting, huge peaks and valleys, and tons of energy. The rocked-out version of "The Haunt" kept with the consistently energetic show, and it led into a mellow jam with a strong reggae vibe that melted into a nasty intro to “Atmosfarag.” The dark instrumental is a perfect springboard for the fan favorite “40’s Theme.” Besides "Wife Soup," this was the song of the evening, and it segued back into the incredible ending of "40’s Theme" that whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
They dropped right into “The Fuzz," a tune that has also received a rock facelift this in the past year, developing into a song that could go anywhere. It segued into the Bob Seger classic “Night Moves,” a treat for a very receptive audience. For an encore, they played one of the most beloved Jake tunes, “Miss Tinkle’s Overture.” This started off with an intro similar to “Padgett’s Profile” and kept the crowd dancing and the energy rising until the very end of the night.
November 17, 2007
photos by Brent Logan
Birmingham, Alabama has also seen some of the best shows UM have played. Even though Keller Williams and R. Kelly were in town that same evening, UM managed to sell out the Workplay Theater before show time. Maybe word has spread of the fantastic two-night stand that was played there in May, or maybe they just love playing in Birmingham, but this would be another of many great shows in the state of Alabama.
A slow opener of “Intentions Clear” got the band loosened up, and was followed by one of the many outstanding jams in the night, “Dump City,” and then mellowed out for a bit with a dynamite “Uncle Wally > Smell the Mitten.” Mitten’s heavy ending saw Jake yell out “Joel Cummins people” as he’s weaving in and out of Jake and Bayliss’s heavy shredding. The Karl Engelmann/Jake penned “Syncopated Strangers,” with its very distinct sections, led Joel perfectly to start off the Beatles’ “Flying.” A rare and always welcome treat (played just 3 times in the past 3 years) it was the perfect jump-off point for one of Bayliss’s hardest vocal songs, “Morning Song,” which ended the set on an emotional climax.
The second set was five songs – packed with lots of jamming, opening ended improv, and patient playing. “JaJunk,” always a huge opener, sent the energy in the room skyrocketing from the get go. Always a crowd pleaser, this version had an upbeat funk jam with "One Nation Under a Groove” teases. Most thought this would be used as the beginning and end of a sandwich of set two but they chose to play it in full before heading into “Hangover.” UM treated everyone with a slight “Power to Love” jam and some heavy “Ringo” teases.
How do you top off the monstrous two song set-opener?
“And Justice For All” came as a surprise to most and kept the energy at a high level. It’s really incredible how perfect UM can cover anyone. Whether it’s Scofield, Metallica, or Toto, they nail it with precision, yet add a little twist of themselves.
During the next song, “Utopian Fir,” a fight broke out on Joel’s side of the room. It’s unreal how during a chilled out, reggae vibe song some people act like assholes, but both Birmingham and Nashville seemed to have a lot of them in the crowd. This idiocy didn’t disrupt the show, but probably ruined a few people’s good time. A heavy Jake riff started the first improv section of the excellent version of “Fir,” proceeding to get faster and faster, repeated, then switched gears again. Similar to the way the Jimmy Stewart in Dump City progressed, so went the Utopian Fir jam – Jake led and took everyone on his journey. A new song called “The Floor” ended the set. With its slow build and dark undertones, it’s a mix between the melancholoy of Safety in Numbers and the heaviness of Anchor Drops.
After a set like that, the encore is just icing on the cake. Some words of wisdom from Bayliss about St. Joe and Notre Dame football got a mixed response from the crowd, but his “we can always agree on music” was a perfect intro for “Bridgeless” to fly out of the gates. It wasn’t the longest or most experimental version, but it was enough to leave the crowd satisfied.
Photos by Brent Logan
Coming to a scorching end of their regular season of touring, the band headed to the Midwest for a few dates to appease its core audience. They make the second stop on their zigzag route in Ohio, and the people of Columbus were ready to “Break out the Booty Wax” on this frigid Friday night. High levels of anticipation and excitement were in the air as the lights dropped on the nearly sold out crowd.
The beautiful instrumental “End of the Road” opened the set but sounded a bit different, due to the rock reworking. The new twist suited the song perfectly, and was a fantastic springboard into one of UM’s oldest tunes, “Der Bluten Kat.” Weaving in and out of each other they found themselves moving into a heavier progressive place, which seems to be where some of their jams have been leaning as the year progressed. Stasik let his bass shine for a quick minute as they lead into the gorgeous “Hajimemashite,” and then dropped back into the end section of DBK – or so everyone thought. A brief drum solo opened up the next section, Joel jumped in with some R2D2-esque sounds, and Jake came in with some oddly-timed riffing. Then Stasik laid down some funk and they were off and running again, weaving in and out of each other’s playing, slowly building a jam into the actual ending of DBK.
Forty minutes had passed, and three songs were played.
“Morning Song” gave the audience a breather, a chance to recover from the dual guitar onslaught, and time to focus on Bayliss’s vocals again. What came next was the highlight of the night, and left the majority of the crowd in awe: “Wappy Sprayberry” made its reworked debut after a 627-show hiatus.
The song stems from a Stasik bass line, but now progresses into a heavy section followed by an 80’s/new wave vocal section, then back into the bass line, then repeats again. This song has tremendous potential now, and was a huge dance party that segued perfectly into “Mulche’s Odyssey” to end the set. Set break gave everyone the chance to grab some food from the White Castle located inside the venue.
Set two started with a rousing version of “Miss Tinkle’s Overture.” “Women Wine & Song,” one of Jake’s many great country-ish tunes that rarely sees the light of day anymore, followed and during it Bayliss was replaced by moe.’s Chuck Garvey, a Columbus resident. After a little bit of noodling to find his place, Chuck really turned up the heat as Jake started laying down the riff from ZZ Top’s “LaGrange.” Chuck eventually passed the guitar back to Bayliss so he could finish off the song, then Joel went crazy on keys before they dropped into an extended version of “Atmosfarag.” Next came another surprise, “In Bloom.” While the vocals weren’t as gritty as Kurt Cobain’s, the placement of it drew the audience back into the show after the slower “Atmosfarag.” The “All in Time” encore with the drums jam in the middle is sure to make this show an all around favorite by many of this year
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Borders / Michigan Theatre
December 1, 2007
Photo by Brent Logan
The day started with an acoustic in-store performance at Borders Book Store. The turn out was bigger than imagined, and the show wasn’t acoustic at all – the band was plugged in and electric. They started off relatively laid back with beautiful versions of “Great American,” “Intentions Clear,” and “Last Man Swerving,” but decided to turn up the heat and segue into “Bridgeless” minus the usual intro. Joel came out from behind keys for a little Q & A with the audience. They proceeded to scare most of the old ladies in the adjoining coffee shop when the first notes of “Wizard Burial Ground” started later in the hour-long set.
As the lobby of the Michigan Theatre filled up, excitement was filling the air as friends old and new began to mingle and talk about the night and their travel through the brewing winter storm outside. UM took the stage, and the familiar notes of “Out of Order” started to bounce around the gorgeous theater. It was a great opener that allows Bayliss to stretch his vocals and the band to settle into some nice grooves. Then came one of the best songs of the year.
“Utopian Fir” has been incredible in 2007, with the majority of versions showing the complete Umphrey’s McGee range. During the first improv section, Jake stumbled onto a “One Nation Under a Groove” tease, then into a nasty “Life During Wartime” jam. The song kept building and building until they finally dropped into “In the Kitchen,” an appropriate song due to the lyrics about winter wrapping around Chicago. This song has also been a monster this year. As UM got the place moving, they finished the song and segued seamlessly into the end of “Utopian Fir.”
“Words” is all about Bayliss nailing the vocals and Jake’s solo at the end, and both were spot on. As Joel’s organ lingered at the end, Jake started the opening riff of “Baba O’Reily,” a regular tease. However, Joel came in with the opening piano section and one of the Who’s most loved songs was off and running. Besides the minor vocal struggles by Joel in the middle, this was a great way to end the set.
As some industrial noise came off the stage, UM decided to treat some lucky fans that were at Borders earlier in the day, with another version of “Wizard Burial Ground. It sandwiched an outstanding version of “Resolution” complete with a “Norwegian Wood” jam, then dropped back into the ending of “WBG.” “Bright Lights” led into an ambient jam that slowly faded into a Stasik bass solo, and melted perfectly into fan favorite “August.” Though this wasn’t the best version played and had too long of a drum jam, it’s still an amazing song and had a new ending that is similar to the song’s intro.
The encore was the real treat, starting with a holiday version of “The Triple Wide.” The beat dropped, the lights were amazing, and the whole venue was getting down. Then, Jake, Bayliss and Joel started teasing some Christmas tunes to make this version truly unique.