Umphrey’s McGee Bring Their A Game to UMBowl IV
Umphrey’s McGee’s annual interactive concert returned to Chicago’s Park West for the third consecutive year. The fourth edition of UMBowl featured the most improv ever seen at the event, with four sets (or quarters) carefully designed to maximize the band’s ability to communicate and react quickly to the situation. No quarter showcased that talent more than the first quarter, Raw Stewage.
Back for a second year, the fan favorite which features old “Jimmy Stewart” improv sections brought back to life had very little trouble topping last year’s edition. This year’s Raw Stewage relied heavily on vocal Stewart’s, with four lyrical compositions making the cut. The band came out and played an hour of continuous improv, featuring some of their greatest improvisational moments of their fifteen year career. Among those chosen, the “Der Bluten Kat” from 10/19/2005 and the 10/12/2005 “Making Flippy Floppy” stick out as two of the more impressive performances.
The fans also voted in a performance of “Ringo” from 2011 featuring a vocal Stewart that we now know as “Cut the Cable.” The tune that has made appearances in 30db setlists with Brendan Bayliss and Yonder Mountain’s Jeff Austin has recently appeared in Umphrey’s McGee shows, most notably in Atlanta during the 2012 New Year’s Eve run. It was evident the fans did their homework, as not only were the selections picture perfect, but there were even a few singing along with Bayliss, particularly during the Red Rocks “All in Time” Stewart, which became a huge fan favorite almost instantly. As the band exited the stage after an hour, it was evident they had indeed topped themselves yet again.
Unlike the 2012 UMBowl ballot, the 2013 ballot for the All-Request Quarter didn’t seem to have many “locks,” leaving the field wide open. The band dipped into their ability as a cover band several times throughout this quarter, ripping stellar versions of Metallica’s “Orion,” Pearl Jam’s “Porch,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do.” The latter of which has been played several times by the band, however Brendan used the mandolin on this particular version.
The best performance of the night may have come when the band broke into a stunning and hysterical version of John Williams’ Star Wars composition, “Cantina Band.” Not only did they capture the feel of the tune, but also extended it into an improv section featuring “Imperial March” teases, further pushing the Star Wars theme. The Umphrey’s rarity “Bullhead City” was voted in by the fans, along with a new original written by Brendan Bayliss for guitarist Jake Cinninger’s son. The new UM original, “No Diablo,” could be best described as a very Beatles-y song. A trademark of Brendan Bayliss songwriting. The All-Request Quarter closed with an acoustic take on the Umphrey’s classic “2×2” and then the timeless Abbey Road medley, prompting a venue-wide singalong.
The third quarter took UMBowl back to it’s roots with a Stew Art Event. The Umphrey’s McGee brainchild has been a mainstay at every UMBowl, and is the backbone of the entire show. The band had to adapt and react to musical ideas texted in by the fans in attendance, making this a challenging exercise in communication and togetherness on stage. Among the noteworthy performances, the opening “Baby Making Music” set the tone and got everybody moving. The excellent contrast of “Sinister Evil Untz” flowing into “Simply Ambient Bliss” showcased the band’s ability to transition from one tone to another seamlessly. “Warrior Marching Into Battle” appeased the metal-heads in the crowd, as Jake and Brendan relied on heavy, aggressive metal riffs to capture the feel of someone actually marching into battle. The annual disco-themed submission closed out the S2 Event, allowing LD Jefferson Waful to utilize Park West’s disco ball creating a very 70’s disco theme.
The consensus through three quarters was that the band had surpassed expectations. Whether you were a first time UMBowler or a seasoned vet, there was something for everybody and this was truly Umphrey’s at it’s absolute best. Little did we know, the fourth quarter would provide the proper punctuation on a fantastic evening of music. Normally with the Choose Your Own Adventure Quarter, the magic isn’t in the improv but rather the segues and transitions between songs. This year, however, the improv was at an all-time high and produced many memorable moments.
Opening with “Wappy Sprayberry” allowed the band to stretch their legs and settle into a beautiful, soaring jam before dropping into “Higgins” which also featured extended improv. The next vote between “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” and “Hangover” was so close that it allowed the “Higgins” jam to continue, but the indecisive crowd eventually made up their mind and went with “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” in the third spot. The Warren G/Nate Dogg cover “Regulate” let the band and crowd loosen up a bit as percussionist Andy Farag stepped to the mic to take lead vocals. The closing segment of “Smell the Mitten” > “Get Lucky” > “Puppet String” provided some incredible fireworks as Umphrey’s once again took on Daft Punk’s newest single and not only covered it, but extended it into an improv. We can only hope the king’s of the electronic scene were taking notes, as this was a thrilling performance to close the final quarter.
It wouldn’t be an Umphrey’s McGee show without a whole lot of humor, and they brought that with their videos in between quarters. Some may remember the Almost Famous parody from last year, well this year they continued that tradition as they introduced Forrest Gumph (played by Joel Cummins) to the world. Using iconic scenes from Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump, Umphrey’s told the story of a man running to find UMBowl. At the beginning of the encore, a fully-bearded Joel Cummins ran in from the back of the venue and jumped on stage, much to the delight of the crowd. Appropriately, Umphrey’s closed the encore with Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” for the first time. The theatrics, precision, and energy shown throughout all four quarters left many outside the venue proclaiming this to be the best edition of UMBowl yet, leaving many to wonder how they can possibly top this next year.
Here’s a look at last night’s setlist via our Box Scores section
UMBowl IV Park West, Chicago, IL
Q2: Orion3, Cantina Band4, No Diablo2, Porch5, Bullhead City6, Hey, Hey What Can I Do7, 2×26, Mean Mr. Mustard > Polythene Pam > She Came In Through The Bathroom Window > Golden Slumbers > Carry That Weight
Q3: Stew Art event
Overtime: Running on Empty11
 debut, original; with vocals
 debut, original
 debut, Metallica
 with Imperial March (John Williams) teases
 debut, Pearl Jam
 Brendan and Jake on acoustics
 Brendan on mandolin and Jake on acoustic
 with Xxplosive (Dr. Dre) tease
 with In the Kitchen teases
 debut, Jackson Browne
First quarter was Raw Stewage, comprised of attendees’ votes for past “Jimmy Stewarts”: FDR 2003-04-23 > Der Bluten Kat 2005-10-19 > Utopian Fir 2006-06-09 > Making Flippy Floppy 2005-10-12 > Ringo 2011-11-05 > Puppet String 2012-09-14 > All In Time 2012-09-14 > Water 2008-11-18
Second quarter was comprised of attendees’ votes, “All Request”
Third quarter was a Stew Art event: Baby Making Music [with Jake lyrics, a la Michael McDonald] > Jazz/Metal Fusion > Sinister Evil Untz > Simply Ambient Bliss > Mogatize Us [with Jake on keys] > Gin and Juice [Snoop Dogg] > Beach Boogie > Bass n Drum + Joel > Warrior Marching Into Battle > Hillbilly Hoedown > Tribal Drum Jam [with Brendan, Jake, and Joel on percussion] > 70s Disco [with lyrics]
Fourth quarter was in “choose your own adventure” style, with attendees voting for the next “adventure” live: Puppet String, 1348, or Wappy Sprayberry; Higgins, Eat, or Lenny; 40’s Theme, Miss Tinkle’s Overture, or Hangover; Regulate, Miss Gradenko, or Rastaman Chant; Kimble, Dear Lord, or Smell the Mitten; Roulette, Bad Poker, or Get Lucky; end of 1348, end of Puppet String, or end of Miss Tinkle’s Overture
The between-quarters videos had a Forrest Gump – gUMph – theme, with the closing scene featuring Joel running across the country and into the venue