Monday, May 12
Review and Photos: UMBowl V and N2F Music Label Launch Party - Umphrey's McGee - Capitol Theatre and Brooklyn Bowl - May 3rd and 4th - New York
Chicago based powerhouse Umphrey’s McGee rolled into New York this past weekend delivering back to back heaters while hitting two of the areas top venues. Delighting their fans from start to finish with their signature dose of creative jams and out right face melting power. Fresh off a killer national tour, the 6 piece band made up of Brendan Bayliss (guitar), Jake Cinninger (guitar), Joel Cummins (keys), Andy Farag (percussion), Kris Myers (drums) and Ryan Stasik (bass) kicked off the first of the weekends’ 2 shows with their much revered UMBowl. Making its first appearance at The Capitol Theatre now in its 5th year of existence this show is quickly becoming the holy grail of Umphrey’s shows. Taking fans on a musical marathon while offering up a variety of tunes both new and old, even adding in some beautifully done covers all while creating a level of crowd participation that is unmatched within the industry.
The UMBowl is just as much a concert as it is a musical "sporting" event offering fans 4 quarters or set performances with an added overtime quarter making it clear this is the bands musical take on football's biggest game of the year, the Super Bowl. Unlike the Super Bowl which seems to sell as many tickets as humanly possible this is one of the few events where the band doesn't sell out the venue. Instead opting to only sell tickets to about half the venues capacity keeping it intimate and leaving plenty of room to rage on the venues main floor. With the evening only mere moments from getting underway I could see what best reminded me of the old school Nintendo game Tecmo Bowl being projected onto the walls and ceiling of the venue. This seemed to intensify the already growing inferno of energy inside as the lights dropped and a video began to play on the large screen behind the stage. Continuing with the sports theme the guys from ESPN’s popular show Around The Horn hosted by Tony Reali, appeared on the screen and delivered a UM based edition of their show, breaking down the evening as well as serving as the proverbial kick off to UMBowl 5.
The 1st quarter was a “Raw Stewage” set, which in the world of Umphrey’s basically means a set composed of individual “Jimmy Stewarts” from the bands past being combined to create new original music. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “Jimmy Stewarts” are sections of fully improvised music created by the band either within a song or used as a transition from song to song. Prior to the performance fans were given the chance to select their 5 top choices for this section via email from a list that was offered up by the band or to write in their own personal selection. This led to the band taking the winning votes and combining 2 or more of them per song, creating 4 original songs from what was already fan favorite material. Having only had the privilege of listening to past UMBowls, this was my first taste of what it was all about in person, shattering my highest of expectations immediately. Highlighted for me by “Skin the Cat” a mixture of one part “Nemo” and one part of “Bridgeless.” Starting with a mellow almost spacy interplay between the band all while slowly climbing to a blissful peak, then quickly plunging into a much darker and aggressive jam leaning towards the bands heavier metal tendencies. This was a perfect song to showcase two of the many ways this band delivers for their audience. Adding his own flair to the event lighting designer Jefferson Waful displayed a spectacle of lights that seemed to dance above the band. Forming cascading walls of ever changing color that accompanied the band perfectly each step of the way, adding to the overall package that is Umphrey’s.
Powering into the 2nd quarter (all request set) the band tackled fan chosen songs that were selected via ballets that were sent to fans prior to the evening’s festivities. This set was a powerhouse from top to bottom offering up Umphrey’s originals as well as some spot-on covers that haven’t been seen in quite some time. Bookended by the meticulously played “Rebubula” a Moe original and the hauntingly beautiful "Brain Damage > Eclipse" by Pink Floyd which had only been seen once before at Bonnaroo in 2006. “Rebubula” which was once a common place cover during 98 and 99 has only been seen once since in 2013. This much welcomed cover brought the crowd energy to peak levels as they patiently dissected this Moe classic. In the middle of all of this were a well done “All Things Ninja” that gave both Joel and Kris each their own time to shine with moving solos. As well as a rather distinctive “#5” that saw much more improvisation then usually seen with this classic, right before hammering home the ending. As if this wasn’t enough the band dropped a rather spot-on and flowing version of the one-time Capitol Theatre regular Grateful Dead’s “Crazy Fingers.” This was the shocker of the evening for me with on point vocals from Jake and just a touch of Umphrey’s flair making this an instant classic. It’s not very often you will hear any of these covers, none- the-less all in one set of music played at this level. Showing the overall versatility of this one of a kind rock band and a prime example of why they are steadily gaining new fans with each and every show.
Halftime brought with it another video from the guys of “Around the Horn” this time debating whether or not to "Buy or Sell" Umphrey’s McGee and the question, are they “Athletes or Musicians?” This was yet another entertaining video ushering in the start of the 3rd quarter. A Stew Art Event this quarter was all about the many different styles of music that can be explored within a “Jimmy Stewart” (a completely improvised section of music that is usually created within a song or used as a transition between two songs.) This kicked the fan participation up another notch as the fans were given real time control of the music. Selecting the direction and theme of music the band would take with real time voting, seen by both the fans and the band as it happens. This created a quarter-long jam that progressed from scorching metal themed peaks to a patriotic UM-themed jam that saw teases of “Yankee Doodle” as well as “The Star Spangled Banner” and more. This jam was further enhanced by the emergence of saxophonist Bill Evans, whose sound and power blended beautifully with the band creating a uniquely fresh feel to the music for the remainder of the 3rd quarter. In a quarter full of highlights I most enjoyed the ferociously upbeat “Emergency Dance Party” section with a “Safety Dance” tease and select lyrics from Rammstein’s, “Du Hast.” This segment was pure musical fire driving the crowd into a full-on frenzied dance party. Wrapping it all up with a flowing Frank Zappa-esque jam that featured “Willie the Pimp” lyrics as well as some exceptionally beautiful “Stairway to Heaven” teases that blended perfectly within the jam.
The 4th and final quarter was a “choose you own journey” set where fans were once again given a chance to pick their favorite from 3 options that were displayed on the large screen behind the band. The voting was done via text messaging, with the totals being tallied in real time for the band and fans alike. This was unlike anything I have ever experienced before, taking what was already a magical experience and enhancing it tenfold. The ability to vote in real time quickly turned into a personal battle between my friends and I, each pulling for our own personal choice, quickly voting then looking up to the screen hoping for a win. There was a steady almost overwhelming buzz traveling throughout the venue as fans cheered not only for the music that was being created on stage, but their choice song winning the battle. As the band played they also watched the voting, curious themselves as to what they may be playing next, at times even extending the jam to allow for a tie vote to be decided, creating a win win situation for everyone involved. With scorching versions of both “Tripple Wide” and “Wife Soup” this quarter was pure musical perfection. Taking tight powerful riffs and mixing them with intricately woven melodies pushing their own boundaries, creating an effortlessly flowing set of music. The fans at one point even choosing to see a rig swap between Jake and Brendan, which offered up an interestingly delicious “Space Funk Booty.” Then switching back to hammer home the always powerful ending of their fan favorite “Mulche’s Odyssey.”
With overtime looming the band leaves the stage for a rather brief break as the final video of the night begins to play. This band-made clip played homage to “Goodfellas” by recreating the “Do you think I’m funny?” scene, in this case “funky” interplay between Tommy and Henry played by Bayliss and Stasik. This was a well chosen clip from a legendary movie entertaining the fans until the band made their way back to the stage. Overtime consisted of the bands take on the Dr Dre and Snoop Dog song “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” that offered a rare opportunity to see bassist Ryan Stasik with mic in hand rapping, while Jake took over for him on bass. This led to a “Much Obliged” that saw Bill Evans rejoin the band adding his warm sound to this magnificent version before the band transitioned into one of my favorite Umphrey’s songs, “Glory.” This unique version slowly climbed beautiful from the start, with spot-on interplay between sax and guitar climaxing to an utterly euphoric peak. Closing out what can best be described as an UMforgettable musical journey, and one of the most enjoyable nights of music I have ever experienced. Blowing the highest of my expectations out of the water, leaving me thankful for the chance to experience this one of a kind event, further cementing my undeniable love for this band and their craft.
Keeping up with their own "rage, rest, repeat” motto the boys traveled down the road, rolling into the Brooklyn Bowl Sunday evening, for the official launch of Nothing Too Fancy Music, the bands very own record label. Following up an evening like UMBowl would seem to be quite the daunting task, but as per usual the band and their team were more than up to the challenge. Offering up only 400 tickets to this special event that was far from your run of the mill concert experience. There was food provided throughout the evening featuring the Brooklyn Bowl’s famous chicken wings, as well as all the necessary sides. There was also an unlimited open bar, which kept the drinks flowing and the mood light, as fans still reeling from last nights performance converged upon this Brooklyn staple.
The ability to see this band in what is already an intimate venue compounded with the fact that the event was sold to less than half of its available capacity seemed to amplify the overwhelming feeling of anticipation permeating the room. I quickly found myself fully submerged deep within the music from the powerful first notes of the rocking “Depth Charge” to the final notes of the “Nothing Too Fancy>Similar Skin >Nothing Too Fancy” ending. A tasty segment paired with long-time staple, “Nothing Too Fancy,” also the name of their new label, with first time played “Similar Skin,” the 5th and title track off their upcoming album. This new track offered delicate vocals and some very familiar “Peaches en Regal” styled riffs throughout. Combined with the ever powerful “Nothing Too Fancy” this easily would have been my favorite segment of the set, had the band not just delivered a musical masterpiece recreating the Pink Floyd rarity, “Fearless.” Played for only its 5th time and the first since 09, this may have been my singular favorite moment of the weekend offering an exquisitely crafted version of this beautiful classic with Jake’s spot-on vocals, the icing on top.
A brief set break allowed both the band and fans a chance to catch their collective breaths and prepare for the second set. Getting it started was “ogniR” or “Ringo” played backwards, from end to start. This was only the beginning of what was a monstrous set as the band went into back to back fan favorites, “Wappy Strawberyy” and “Utopian Fur,” each offering the band a chance to stretch their legs, digging deep into the music. “Utopian Fur” was especially majestic taking the fans on a blissful journey offering up everything from screeching metal to spacey grooved out jam sections. With a driving drum solo as well as some of my favorite bass work of the evening, the song transitioned in a mellow reggae-like groove before ending with Jake making his way over to Andy for a dual percussion solo.
This solo transitioned into the upbeat Lionel Ritchie cover, “All Night Long,” a beautiful tune that turned into a fan sing-along before the set ending “Wizard Burial Ground” brought the collective pulse of the room back into the clouds. With heavy metal coursing through every twist and turn this song soared to blistering peaks closing out what was one of my favorite and most powerful sets of the weekend.
After a show full of passionately crafted music the only thing left was a final thank you delivered to the fans in the form of a 20 minute encore. Starting off with two uniquely different covers, both rarities, followed by what may be one of the bands oldest songs. The Poison tune “Unskinny Bop” got it going, this being only the 2nd time they have played it live. It was unfinished ,but rather fun as they transitioned into the Danzig song “Mother” sung by Kris, marking this only the 5th time the band has done this tune. Leaving it all on stage the band finished off with “Divisions.” This is one of their oldest songs having been played at shows since their beginning in 1998 and for me was a perfectly chosen finale, for not only this evening but the weekend as a whole.
Ushering in a new era for the band and fans alike as they prepare to drop their new and first album under Nothing Too Fancy Music on June 10th. The album titled Similar Skin will be the first of hopefully many under their own label and only a taste of what is waiting from this ever evolving powerhouse. This is a band that truly understands their fan base and is constantly finding unique and innovative ways of delivering just what their fans are looking for night after night. Be it one-of-a-kind shows such as this weekend or their own private festival where they not only play for the fans, but also teach lessons and workshops, interacting on a personal level with their fans throughout. Look for these guys to continue blowing minds and gaining fans throughout this summer’s festival season and for years to come.
Words and Photos: Chason Heins and Mike Geller©Grateful Music LLC
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