Recap: Umphrey’s McGee sUMmer School Day 2
A look at Jefferson Waful’s lighting class via Umphrey’s McGee’s blog
After a night of open jams and campfire chats, students at Umphrey’s McGee’s sUMmer School rolled out of bed to find their host band at the stage and ready. Umphrey’s started the first day of classes at their summer school at 10AM with a seminar focused on the way in which the band improvises. Each band member brought his input to the subject of improvisation, focusing on the signals the band uses with each other on stage. The seminar went into great detail about the auditory and visual cues the band will implement during any given jam. Fans were then offered the hands-on experience of sitting in with the band for some improvisations. Two lucky students got a chance to get in on the action on their respective instruments while a third served as an all around conductor. Though for demonstrative purposes, the bits of adlibbed playing proved to be incredibly impressive and easy to follow. Songs like “Space Funk Booty” and “Puncle Wally” (the punk version of “Uncle Wally”) were thrown around to demonstrate certain aspects of the band’s improvising abilities.
The next set of classes took students behind the scenes of Umphrey’s McGee. Umphrey’s keyboardist Joel Cummins, business developer Kevin Browning and manager Vincent Iwinski led a talk on business and technology, which proved to be insightful as to the way Umphrey’s has been run from the start. All three of them spoke on developing the aspects of the business that are specific to Umphrey’s. Mentioning that he used to manage the band in it’s early years; Cummins stressed that maintaining financial records and happy business relationships is crucial to getting a band off the ground. Iwinski spoke on the task of creating a diverse touring schedule while Browning spoke more about the distribution of the band’s music (UMLive, studio albums, etc.). Over by the band’s stage setup, lighting savant Jefferson Waful offered a look into his side of the show. After demonstrating some of the features of his lighting rig, Waful gave a live demonstration of his work with commentary behind the lights set to the jam in “Utopian Fir” from the night before. Students were able to get a sense of the science behind the vital improvised lighting that accompanies Umphrey’s.
The afternoon sessions were more geared towards the musicians attending the program. Guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger led a workshop concentrated on deconstructing the guitar playing in Umphrey’s McGee. With improvisations throughout, the duo worked through some of the band’s more iconic guitar riffs such as “Bridgeless” and “Plunger,” which Bayliss admitted was inspired by Guns N’ Roses’ tune “Locomotive”. Guitar fiends with instruments in hand took notes, mouths agape at the relatively private lesson they were receiving. Over at the roadhouse, Joel Cummins, bassist Ryan Stasik, and drummer Kris Myers led a similar workshop. Titled “soloing for non-soloists”, the seminar focused on the ability to provide tasteful backing and accompaniment when outside of the spotlight. The trio utilized Marcus Miller’s “Red Baron” as a tune to demonstrate various jamming tools over. Both “Divisions” and “Go To Hell” were given as examples of how the band will work together to build and release tension. This session proved useful to attendees who were given the chance to play with the trio and show off their comprehension of the material.
Admittedly and rightfully tired after a full day, Umphrey’s took the stage for their set of music. Any sort of exhaustion was not apparent whatsoever from the band’s playing. The opening segment consisted of “No Comment” sandwiched in the middle of “Phil’s Farm”. The jam coming out of “No Comment” showcased the more electronica side of Umphrey’s, providing a steady dance groove that reinvigorated energy in the audience. The band implemented some of the hand signals that they went over earlier in the day throughout the jam much to the crowds delight. The real bulk of the set was centered on “Der Bluten Kat”, one of the band’s earliest songs. Before beginning the “Der Bluten Kat”, Stasik told a story of a trip that he and Joel took to Japan to climb Mount Fuji, stating that when they returned the band finalized the arrangement of the tune. Also noting that the song is titled “Der Bluten Kat” because of the tune’s preliminary drum fill, the band teased “JaJunk”, which was named for similar reasons. “Der Bluten Kat” sandwiched “Comma Later”, which also provided one of the better jams of the night. Quite possibly the musical highlight of the week thus far came when Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” slowly segued out of “Der Bluten Kat”. While the song was not performed in full, planned, or rehearsed, the band moved through it with the attention it deserved. The tune featured Kris Myers on vocals, which fit appropriately for what the band was trying to pull off.
Open jams filled the grounds throughout the day and way into the night. Umphrey’s members were in full force, stopping by to play and socialize just as we all were. Ryan Stasik and Joel Cummins even chose to participate in a mid-day kickball game. Private lessons were given to those who signed up in advance but it was clear that one could learn by just roaming and taking in what was going on.
Here’s a look at yesterday’s setlist via Umphrey’s McGee’s homepage:
Tuesday, August 7, sUMmer Scbool, Big Indian, NY
One Set: Phil’s Farm -> No Comment -> Phil’s Farm, Higgins, Go To Hell, Mantis, Der Bluten Kat* -> Comma Later -> Der Bluten Kat -> Weird Fishes/Arpeggi** -> Der Bluten Kat
**Radiohead Cover – First Time Played – Sung by Kris Myers