Recap: Umphrey’s McGee sUMmer School Day 3
_Photo via the Umphrey’s McGee Blog
The third day of Umphrey’s McGee’s sUMMer School was pushed back an hour by popular request of those unaccustomed to early mornings. But this only meant that the jam sessions ran later the night before.
The first part of the day consisted of two full-band seminars split by a lunch break. Sleepy-eyed students were treated to a look into how Umphrey’s crafts a song during the “songwriting” class. The band utilized “Plunger,” a fan-favorite for this exercise, explaining the thought process behind the tune’s various sections. Demonstrating both their improvisational and compositional skills, the band members worked together to create a song in front of the audience of attentive students. The result was rather impressive and the process was truly worth watching.
After a quick break, the band took the stage and set up as they would for a rehearsal. Though billed as an “open rehearsal,” the band sounded rather solid. Running through originals such as the newer “Crucial Taunt” and covers including Rush’s “YYZ,” the sextet talked through sections of the songs and methods for practicing the more complex material. It was also explained that segues between songs are often practiced if previously written in on a setlist. The segue test was demonstrated by showing how “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” can fit right on to the end of “Wappy Sprayberry”. “Professor Wormbog” was given as an example of a tune the band tends to practice because the form has changed drastically since its initial incarnation. Both versions of “Wormbog” were played for comparative purposes.
The afternoon consisted of three separate classes going on simultaneously. At the main stage, Umphrey’s drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag manned their respective kits and talked extensively about their roles in the band as individuals and as a unit. Their explanations were accompanied with demonstrations of both their own drumming techniques and those of other drummers they admire.
Meanwhile, Umphrey’s front of house engineer Chris Mitchell sat down with ex-sound engineer Kevin Browning and guitarist Jake Cinninger for a chat on the logistics behind Umphrey’s sound-design, both in the studio and live. The trio spoke at length and in technical terms about the ways in which Umphrey’s is recorded, both in the studio and at a live show. Cinninger also gave personal tips that he has implemented in his own home studio. An early recording of “Booth Love” was played to prove how creating a basic demo does not need to be excessive. Keyboardist Joel Cummins took on the arduous task of picking apart the music theory that goes in to an Umphrey’s McGee composition. Using the tunes “Mantis” and “Cemetery Walk” as examples, Cummins went over the musically technical aspect of what Umphrey’s does. Though large words and intricate concepts were touched upon, students nodded along and jotted notes, raising hands if questions arose.
After a dinner break, the two Umphrey’s guitarists split up to teach the last two lessons of the day. Brendan Bayliss lectured on lyric writing while Jake Cinninger brought out a 4-track recorder to demonstrate the way in which he builds a song. Bayliss spoke without a microphone for an audience of around two-dozen for an hour about his inspirations for lyrics as well as his love for literature. Fans asked questions about some of their personal favorite lyrics and the stories behind them. Bayliss extended himself emotionally to the audience, citing struggles with divorce and friendships as some of his major songwriting influences. On a lighter note, he gave tips on getting rhymes down on paper and avoiding clichés.
The feel of the Umphrey’s performance itself was noticeably different from the previous two nights. Once the band hit the stage, the room took on an incredibly relaxed vibe. The audience took a break from taking notes to hang out and watch the band play. From the start of the set, the band appeared to be facing monitor issues, which only seemed to be resolved during the middle of “Divisions”. Nevertheless, the band delivered an appeasing setlist that began with “#5” and honored requests “Mail Package” and “Out of Order”. The big jam of the set came during “The Linear”, which built many different themes before segueing into “Cemetery Walk”. The band descended from the stage to chat and jam with students from the time the set ended till the early hours of the morning. Umphrey’s members were approachable throughout the day to chat and give private instruction. Open jam rooms bustled all day and night with students eager to play with each other.