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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2006/04/16
by John Zinkand

When Umphreys Attacks!

Whether you love them or hate them, its undeniable that Umphreys McGee is on the attack right now. Personally, I love them. They definitely dont LTB. I know many hip scenesters, gifted scribes, and general veterans of the jamband scene do not find them to their personal liking. I feel sorry for these people. Well, not really. I dont really care. To be honest, Im almost happy there is a strong undercurrent of disdain for this band. Maybe that undercurrent will stave off the larger venues for just a wee bit longer. Oh, but they are coming. Believe that. This band has some undeniable synergy right now and does not look like they can be stopped. With a touring schedule almost as intense as their two guitar attack, its likely that Umphreys McGee will soon invade Iran, put an end to global warming, and wean the West of its nauseating oil dependency. This band has impressed me since I first heard of them back in 2001. They had their shit together even then. There was already a very strong buzz about them due to their energetic and prolific street team passing out reams and reams of live CDs. I had been given one and it impressed me enough to check out their show. The Mt Tabor Theater was packed on that fateful evening. And for what? A young jamband from Indiana? Please. But there it was, plain as day. As they started in rocking the night away, it seemed very obvious to me that these guys had skillsskills to pay the bills. Ever since then Ive begged, borrowed, stolen, or all of the above to catch Umphreys McGee play a live show.

And obviously I am not alone. This band impresses more and more people with each successive tour. One cant help but respect their skills and fun vibe even if the style of music is not necessarily your pint o Guinness. Theyve got their marketing together and also offer live CDs of each concert at the end of each night (and have for quite some time now). Their tour schedule is relentless and takes care to visit each and every part of the country on pretty regular basis. They are regulars on the summer festival circuit. The only thing missing is a powerful mythology and cast of loveable characters whose significance can be interpreted different ways by different listeners and endlessly debated. Actually, thats something Umphreys will probably never have. Thats because Umphreys is more of a prog band than a jamband. Just kidding. I think Umphreys is definitely a jamband. But they do tend to show a strong affinity for progressive rock. And hair metal. And 80s. And funk. And classic rock. And jazz. Which, of course, is part of what makes them a jambandtheir vast and varied influences. More than anything, though, theyve got the undeniable drive and burning desire. You can see it at each live show. I saw them last weekend here in Portland, OR and it was a great show. They stepped up from the Crystal to play the Roseland Theater with poise and confidence, nicely filling the relatively large room (but not yet selling it out). The intensity was there as the band put on a blistering show filled with old classics, newer and more concise tunes, extended jams, and that trademark zany Umphreys sense of humor. These guys have been playing progressively larger venues with each successive visit to a given city, and their intensity has been growing right along with the crowd size.

It just seems like Umphreys is pouncing into attack mode in a big way these days. Theyve got two DVDs in the can, they just finished up a European Tour which ended in headlining the second annual Jam in the Dam festival, they just released a new studio album and are currently touring in support of it, they are appearing with Huey Lewis on ABCs Jimmy Kimmel Live TV show, they are scheduled to play all the major festivals this summer including late night performances at both Bonnaroo and High Sierra, and they are teaming up with more experienced bands like moe., Govt Mule, and even the charismatic Dave Matthews this summer to play larger sheds and amphitheaters like Alpine Valley and Red Rocks.
Yes, it seems quite inevitable that Umphreys McGee will soon land the first manned spaceship on Mars. But even on the outside chance that they dont, it looks like they will be churning out live music all across the nation and world for many happy years to come. And while some people will always think that their music is too edgy, their style is too cheesy, the singers voice is too whiney, or their antics are too damn juvenile, what can you do? You cant please all the people all the time. Maybe Umphreys will peak at the level of a moe. or String Cheese sized band that can regularly sell out the large theater circuit, but will most likely never sell out Madison Square Garden. As a snobby, greedy fan from back in the day, I say good more Umphreys in an intimate setting for me! And while the days of Umphreys playing a seedy little bar in front of fifty people are gone forever, no one can say exactly just whats in store for this fine group of upstanding young musician-citizens. Whatever the future holds, Im sure Umphreys fans from all over are ready to greet it with a hearty collective, Fuck yeah!

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