Umphrey’s McGee: One More Vice
Words By Nicholas Stock (phatphlogblog.blogspot.com)
It was brought to my attention that when laying out my top five jambands, I left out the Umph. Well that was a serious oversight on my part, so in the midst of all the Cheesiness we’ve been presenting over the last week I thought it would be a good idea to revisit my top jambands series and include Umphrey’s as a wrap to my top bands in jam.
Umphrey’s McGee is a progressive rock band based out of Chicago. I’ve often referred to them as the Death Metal of jam, but more accurately they are perhaps the most technically proficient players of all time. Their ability to stop on a dime, pick it up and leave six cents change has always blown me away. With elements of funk, jazz, rock, metal, blues and so much more, they are one of the most dynamic bands in jam. They formed at Norte Dame in December of 1997 and I feel lucky to have watched them grow and develop. My first UM show was in 2001 and to say that they’ve come a long way would be the understatement of the decade.
The band was originally billed as Hubert Humphrey’s Traveling Band Featuring Flappy McGee. The story of their name comes from that fact that the emcee at one of their first shows was Rodney Dangerfield, who slurred their name as Umphrey’s McGee giving them their moniker for the ages. The band members have regularly referenced the fact that they may have the worst name in the history of music, however, I for one dig the name.
Beginning in 2001, they began practicing intense improvisation exercises much like Phish did way back in the day. The product of which is their "Jimmy Steward" jam, which they often take to the stage as an exercise in musicianship and connecting with each other. The band had almost ended before it really began when their original drummer, Mike Mirro, decided to leave the band to attend medical school in 2002. After a lot of thought and inner dialogue they selected Kris Meyers who just happened to be the first to apply for the vacant position. Since then, it’s been an uphill ride with them just checking off accomplishments as they’ve gone. With the fact that they’ve pratically become partners with the Summer Camp Music Festival, have played hundreds of amazing shows and are a stalwart of the scene, I’d say they’ve done "OK" as one of their albums declares.
To wrap all of this UMph talk, up I’d like to discuss one of their stellar shows at The Belly Up in Aspen. I was lucky enough to catch them with some dear friends at this famed venue in February proving once again that all my assumptions about these boys from Indiana were spot on.
So without further ado, I give you night two of the run...
Umphrey's McGee 2.10.11
I woke up fairly fresh after a nice night with friends in the condo. Tdog made breakfast while we took stock of what we experienced from night one. We took the opportunity to tidy up before watching Dumb and Dumber. Yeah we did that. Night comes on fast when you wake up at 1 p.m. so it wasn't too long before the first beer was cracked and the festivities began. We made the same plan for an early arrival but the group was divided on which side to post up. Ultimately this fissure would split us. With Stevebed, Karl and azzman and me on the left side and the rest of the crew on the right, it mattered very little because we were all there for the music. I spent most of night one on the floor and night two was no different.
We had arrived around 8:00 pm and as I said we took opposite sides and relaxed before they took the stage. Rumors had been floating around that John Oates was in attendance and would be joining the band onstage. This was of little surprise because he had performed with moe. the weekend prior and was apparently a local. As the show started we looked back to see Oates posted on the rail. Umphrey's came out with a funky "Ringo." Here is the setlist from PT.
SET I: Ringo> Uncle Wally, Intentions Clear, Water, Push the Pig, Ain't No Sunshine*, The Liner*> Let It Rock*
SET II: Slacker, Red Tape, Booth Love> Ringo, Syncopated Strangers, Smell the Mitten, Power To Love
ENCORE: Mulche's Odyssey
*w. John Oates
“Bunch of Greasy Animals”
"Ringo" got the juices flowing and "Uncle Wally" took us for a nice ride before "Intentions Clear" launched the room into the stratosphere. It was about here that I noticed the first of many "Another One Bites The Dust" teases. That seemed to be the theme for this show mainly fueled by Stasik's gritty bass lines. "Water" was a personal highlight. It certainly pushed the set into that more progressive realm as opposed to a rocktastic face melter, but I wasn't complaining. Plenty of time in the second set for that. Joel just nailed "Water." "Push the Pig" was dirty goodness and I love to hear Bayliss and Jake gang-plucking their guitars. They brought up John Oates for "Ain't No Sunshine" and let me say that man is small. Standing at 5 foot even his guitar seemed huge on his relatively small frame. While Oates was right at home on "Ain't No Sunshine" and I think added a soulful element to the Umph, he was pretty lost on "Liner." He regained his composure on "Let It Rock" and ended the set solidly.
Umphrey's opened the second set with "Slacker", announcing to the crowd that, "You've yet to ever witness our best." I feel the "Slacker" set opener is like UM throwing down the gauntlet and saying hold on tight it's about to get serious. They got everyone back into the groove with a massive "Red Tape" clocking in at well over the 15-minute mark. It's just nice to see a touring band playing like a well-oiled machine. The way it should be. "Red Tape" went from rock to space to funk to all out dance party to insane climax before going back to rock. Just sick really. The "Booth Love" back into "Ringo" was my highlight from the second set. "Booth Love" also featured a sick "Superstition" breakdown before the transition. I liked that.
“Bunch of Greasy Animals”
The crowd starts chanting to the tune of "We Want The Umph Gotta Have That Umph" (to the tune of We Want The Funk) and Jake and Joel join in with the crowd. It was moments like this that added the familial vibe for those two days in Aspen. They used the chant as a bridge into "Syncopated Strangers," which seemed a bit frenetic until they got to the jam. "Smell the Mitten" was an appropriate jam considering the locale. Umphrey's covered Henrix's "Power To Love/ Power of Soul" which added to the rock and roll feel of the evening.
They came out for the encore and did the entire intro "Don't Stop Believing" before Bayliss announced that, "Life is difficult get used to it." Umphrey's then proceeded to tear that room a new one with a rage-riffic "Mulche's." I have to say that these shows just prove to me again that Umphey's McGee is truly coming into their own. They sound tighter and more cohesive than ever before, and that's saying a lot for a band that has always focused on hairpin transitions and stop on a dime segues. Every time I see them they impress and in todays world of recycled shows that's something worth looking forward to.
This show again solidified my belief that Umphrey’s may be the last great jamband to emerge form the masses. We’ve talked a lot about the retraction of the scene and it would appear that UM made it just under the wire. Through tireless touring and amazing musicianship, they have accomplished what many bands today hope for. They are very much one of the highly touted few and well loved groups that made good on years of tourng and relentless performing.