Umphrey’s McGee: In Our Eyes
By Erin & Benjamin Slayter
Whether this was your second show (our nephew) or your 100th (@HeavyNuggets) by now you’ve come to expect that an Umphrey’s McGee show will be something ridiculously special. The evening is anticipated like an anniversary of sorts, wondering what these six men who defy all attempts at categorization will bring to the table for the delight of their dedicated fans. The only thing for certain is that you’re going to leave with a melted-on smile and a sense of astonishment.
The Kalamazoo, Michigan concert followed one of UM’s “S2” events, intimate gatherings with the band that use text-messaging to allow audience interaction and direction of improvised jamming. Recently reviewed at Time.com, the S2 or “Stew Art” series is something not to be missed (unless you’re stuck working for the man and can’t get there in time).
Every Umphrey’s McGee show has it’s own unique flavor and 10.22.2010 at the State Theater in Kalamazoo Michigan was no exception. Their previous Michigan engagement at Frederick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids was a summmer-lovin’, super-hero filled trip around the globe with a monster cover of Toto’s Africa that left fans screaming enough to win a second encore. Friday’s show in the Zoo, with Marsha Stasik opening the show with her latest comedy act, left many fans out in the cold with a sign on the door “Umphrey’s McGee Show is SOLD Out!”.
A quick intro of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” was an omen. This was going to be epic on a personal level. The crowd roars as the guys take the stage. In the middle of a stanza, the bass drops, and Bayliss sings, “There were always questions, about where you been, and with whom you went...” What a great opener: The Bottom Half. The funk was among us. The song is a great juxtaposition of lyrics and messages, switching time signatures, Jake throwing in Chinese riffs just for the hell of it, but the biggest takeaway? “There’s not a thing worth remembering when tomorrow can bring something new”. If you’re not sure yet, here’s some full disclosure: it’s about to get silly here in the Zoo!
After building and building “The Bottom Half”, here comes the guitar again and they’re stepping right into “Ocean Billy” one of their more complex and sophisticated pieces that sometimes makes us wonder; is there a whole string section hiding somewhere backstage or is it all just the mastery of these six guys? When listening to Ocean Billy, we can just as easily imagine hearing it sans the lyrics while seeing it played by a full orchestra conducted by The Red Preist, Vivaldi himself. After seamlessly sliding back to The Bottom Half, we’re reminded by Brendan, “Half of the time on the stage / most of it's not even real / regardless of anything fake / how much can you practice to steal?”. It’s like they’re channeling our thoughts. How can you put into your own reality the ability to travel the world and rock like this?
The next unexpected twist? JaJunk. We’re traveling backwards through time visiting 2002. Eight years into the past. Eight years of perfecting this song featuring a chorus of sustained “Whooooaaaaaaayyyyoooooio!” Yes, UM, we’re feeling it. Highlighted by picks and riffs from Joel, tickling the keys in an attempt to say, “Oh you’re not going to believe what’s about to happen here tonight.” About half-way through JaJunk, it’s like there’s a moment that they calm down before making a decisive commitment to go nuts and wield all the power of UM for the rest of the night. Twenty seconds before the end of Jajunk, you feel it coming. All we can say is, “O RLY?” as they expertly, almost imperceptably slide right back into “The Bottom Half” to finish up the first run. The crowd is roaring now, UM takes this chance to bring it down low and slow, just to bring it right back again. Inside of thirty seconds, we’re hearing dueling guitars, Myers building the tempo with his kick drums and Jake lets wild with some heavy shredding.
What happens next is classic comedy. Cheap Sunglasses. Out of all the covers you can hear on any given day, ZZ Friggin’ Top. Seems to be something they’re working on as it’s been played three other times recently, perhaps we’ll see some beards busted out for an extended version on the New Year’s run! Stepping back into the UM time machine, we get a “Hurt Bird Bath”, which is almost a lounge jazz intro filled with introspective solo guitar stanzas, meaningful lyrics (is it just us or is there an overwhelming message that these guys really are trying their asses off to make a difference?).
So we’re at 2001, and we’re thinking, what’s next, how much further back are they taking us? Not at all friends, we’re heading to some new territory after an eruptive conclusion to HBB.
After praying and putting out gin to the island god Pele (it’s a Hawaiian thing), tweeting incessantly about it, and doing everything possible to spread what in our opinion is an excellent song and free download (the new single/release/project?) “Wellwishers” comes. We’re standing at the lighting board, watching Waful dance on his sock-covered feet throwing spears of light across the historic venue, painting the audience with gobos, and abusing the console like he’s apt to do. Browning is in the zone, “sound caressing” like he was born to do it. We pull out the phone and manage to get most of the song recorded on video.
Now we’re back on the hook hard as we’re given not one second’s rest before they’re back into JaJunk, getting to the message. There’s only one verse to this mainly instrumental jam:
If you think you resemble your roots
You’ve got to pick up all your pieces and hope they approve (WE DO! - ed)
Your words won’t carry that much weight on the shelf
So who you gonna blame for representing yourself?
Everyone joins in, the crescendo is coming. Remember the commercial in the 1980’s saturday morning cartoons? ZIGGYBOMUWAH! (It’s a tidal wave!) Joel’s magic fingers are almost like chopsticks. Jake’s playing more notes per second than we can count. The distortion arm is bending like a twizzler. The crowd, they’re ecstatic. Bayliss calls half-time. We look at one another and have to question what just happened. Oh yeah, that’s why we love this band, they’re criminally insane..
So halftime is over an here is a little story that ties the entire experience together for us. Two days before the show Erin was shopping for wigs for her Soul Train costume. She spots a small package on the shelf. It’s an inflatable ghetto blaster. (No, it’s not a boom box, despite previous mis-labelings.) She has to buy it and at home on Thursday night, it’s inflated. The thing is huge, easily the size of the biggest you ever did head-spins and the worm to in 1985 while practicing your moon walk. We take it to the venue, inflated. Our nephew Nick, (remember it’s his second show?) takes it in for us, as we’re loaded down with cameras. Somewhere near the end of the first set, he lets it loose into the crowd. It makes it onto the stage. Stasik grabs it. The band leaves the stage after “Much Obliged”.
What happened next blew us away and caused us to run for the stage. You don’t think that you’re connected, and then all of a sudden you are. A butterfly beats its wings in china, and the next thing you know, Browning’s put Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” on the house PA system. This isn’t really happening, is it? Stasik’s walking out on stage now, with Waful focusing a couple of white spots on his head. You’ve got to be kidding me. He’s got the blaster above his head, performing the best John Cusack impression ever and taking a moment to speak (he doesn’t sing), “We love you Kalamazoo, we’ve got time for one more. You’re the fucking best. Can’t wait to come back. KZOO!” Right back at you guys, the feeling is absolutely mutual.
The entire second set was a groovalicious psychadelic line-up pairing nicely with the Michigan UM’s fans and their Soul Train attire pre-planned through the power of social networking on a new “Michigan Umphrey’s Crew” Facebook group. Bouncing from Cemetery Walk to Der Bluten Kat and on to Cemetery Walk II with the always loved Much Obliged ending the set and leaving time for only one encore: Bridgeless. Even as the crew began breaking down the set, fans were asking, “Are they coming back or was that it?” Yep, until next time friends. Perhaps then, we will get our ongoing wish for a third walk through the cemetery. One thing is clear, UM’s are leaders in this game, and show by show they’re purposefully reinventing what to expect from live music performances. Thank you gentlemen, until next time.
Umphreys McGee Live at The State Theater on October 22, 2010. <--- Direct Archive Link
01. Bottom Half
02. Ocean Billy
04. Cheap Sunglasses
05. Hurt Bird Bath
07. Ms. Tinkle's Overature
09. Cemetary Walk
10. Der Bluten Kat -> Dear Lord -> Der Bluten Kat
11. Booth Love -> Der Bluten Kat
12. Cemetary Walk II
13. Much Obliged