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Reviews > Shows

Published: 2001/10/05
by Jeremy Walsh

Umphrey’s McGee, The Pittsburgh Deli Company, Pittsburgh, PA, 9/21/01

As someone mentioned after the show (maybe it was drummer Mike Mirro), Umphrey's recent tour seemed a bit like a Pittsburgh sandwich. On their second gig of the run they gigged at the wedding of…ahem- Jeremy Welsh and Laura Bossardt (a story for another day) and their second-to-last gig was their fourth stop at the intimate Pittsburgh Deli Company. In between, as it might be easy to guess, were emotion-filled concerts in Ithaca the night of 9.11, Boston's House of Blues, Burlington, Washington DC, two shows in Philly, and most especially, The Lion's Den in New York City on Friday the 14th (fittingly, this show opened with Marley's "Trenchtown Rock"). While the tour was only a bit longer than two weeks, it was clear that the band appreciated the familiar setting of the Deli Company and the many familiar faces that were present.

It also seemed as though Pittsburgh appreciated the presence of Umphrey's, as the upstairs room of the Deli was crowded for the whole evening. And although the crowd was a bit chatty at times, the front part of the room was occupied with dancers and fans, excited to get such a close view of UM (There is no stage at the Deli – a quickly thrown-up cord separated the fans from the musicians. And by the end of the night, people were boogying on chairs, trying to catch glimpses of the band in action.).

Around 10:20 pm, the band takes its place and starts noodling around. It doesn't take too much time for the newly re-vamped "The Fuzz" to begin. While the this version was pretty standard, I was entertained by watching Andy Farag play with an instrument that seemed to be something like a theramin – as Joel Cummins played some soaring, siren-like notes on the keys, Andy stood back there and moved his hand up and down over some apparatus. Kind of cool to watch, at least.

"2×2" was a bit of a surprise, coming at the beginning of the second set. But I certainly wasn't complaining. This version was nice and drawn out, slow as it should be. I have always been a fan of UM's slower songs, as they act as a nice balance to their party songs.

"Tribute to Spinal Shaft" opens up ordinary enough with Jake Cinninger's guitar riffs, but Joel quickly jumps in and does a wonderful little solo on the piano. Great to see him step that way. And then it was Brendan Bayliss' turn. Wow, was he on fire tonight. Anyone who says he has taken a back burner this past year to Jake needs to listen to this show – or watch him from the front row sometime.

"Tribute" moved into its second, funkier section rather quickly. But as soon as it seemed to be over, the moved right into a distinct jam. It didn't seem to play off of any of the "Tribute" melody and included a tiny bit of a "Ring Around the Rosey" tease – which seemed to fittingly mark a tiny bit of follow-the-leader by Jake and Brendan. About three minutes into this jam, it took on a bit of a "glorious" feeling, signaled by some beautiful notes by Brendan and some soaring chords by Joel. As that died away, and drummer Mirro moved on the cymbals as "Divisions" began A wonderful segue into this fine tune. I have heard the placement of "Divisions" in their setlist is driven by the high notes Brendan has to sing – whatever the reason, it is a perfect song to suck in new fans as well as veterans alike. After some soaring notes by Brendan, there is a bit of a drum jam around three minutes in. Not a full out drum jam, but just a little section to let Mike and Andy get into the mix. Around five minutes, a mellow jam begins, highlighted by some moog-sounds. This also contained a wonderful interplay between Joel and Brendan – Brendan was working this foot pedal that kind of sounded like a wah. Very neat to watch. All in all, a great version of a classic.

A take on J. Scofield's "Make Me" followed. Nice jazzy tune, although I enjoy "A Go Go" a bit more.

At this point, my parents were about to leave – they wanted to hear the band play a "real" concert and made the trip down to get a taste. And they claim to have been enjoying it a lot – just a bit tired and the room was a tad smoky. But as soon as they heard the beginning of the next song, they had to stick around for one more – "Hey 19" was something they could get down to. ; ) UM does a wonderful job with Steely Dan, especially with the two guitars. Now, I am still pulling for "Any Major Dude" or "King of the World," but I will be patient . . . Joel handles the Rhodes very nicely for a part, with some interplay, and just fades.

Shortly afterwards, Brendan announces that they will play the last song of the set, with a break to "de-hydrate and re-hydrate and play more for you." He claims the song is based on a true story – which is interesting in itself, as "Get In the Van" is an instrumental. This new song starts out a bit dark, as some of their instrumentals tend to be, with cool synchronized guitar licks by Brendan and Jake and a nice Latin-flavored section. Nice way to close.

As I was standing around during the break, chatting away, I heard someone ask the band if they were going to bring out some energy in the second set. I don't know if this was harmless or asked as a challenge. Looking back, it seems as though the band clearly stepped up for the second set, challenge or not.

The second set began with the band wandering a bit into "Nothing 2 Fancy" – Joel needed some tape for his keyboards, and there seemed to be something wrong with a speaker on the right side. Maybe that was the reason for the start/stop around the 1:45 mark. Nonetheless, the "N2F" started at a nice pace, galloping along as that song usually does. Around the 5:30 mark Brendan pulls off a nice solo, with Jake following about 2 minutes later, signaling the "Arabic" section of the song. This just builds and builds, with each member spiraling upwards with such tightness, and at 10:20, poof . . . it just drops away. The jam is very quiet, with some R-2 D-2 noises thrown in as the guitars weave in and out of each other. The trance quality picks up a bit at 12:30 with some keyboard work by Joel, and by 13:00, they have progressed to a full out techno jam. Boy, was this danceable! Especially when the Moog kicked in. Driving at a great pace, moved along by Mirro's cymbal work. As it approached the 17:00 minute mark, it slowly died down again. Slowly moving to he march-like drum beat of . . .

Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." A perfect song to get your feet back on the ground.

Jake's take on LL Cool J followed with "Soul Food II" – lyrics sound like they were taken from LL's "Pied Piper," if I am not mistaken, and the music is right out of P-Funk's book. So much so that three minutes in, a little "We Want the Funk" chant was started in the front of the crowd. Jake was so moved that he decided to beat box a little – just a tease. The song settled into a nice jam, lasting about three minutes, and somehow found itself in the end of "Space Funk Booty."

From here they segued into the first verse of "Pick Your Nose," and this moved seamlessly into Dr. Didg's "Bob's Cloud." I have heard shows of them covering Dr. Didg, but I had thought it was always when a horn player was sitting in – this was a real treat to hear, and surprisingly it seemed as though some of the newer fans recognized the song as well.

"Bob's" loosely segued into "Dirty Love," sung by Andy at the front of the stage ("You've been all happy, now it's time to get dirty."). A little irreverent Zappa is always good. ; )

Talking with Brendan later that night, he told me that the band had started to write in locations in their pre-show set lists where they would force themselves to improv. They would try to break these sections into four separate "pieces," focusing on different themes. He said that possibly some of these jams would grow into actual songs. They had given a name of these "jams" – Jimmy Stewart. This came from the room where my wedding reception was held – it seems that after the reception came to an end, the band went back into the room around 3:00 in the morning and just improvised – and it was all caught on tape. Much of the improv was acoustic in nature with "emo" over-tones and inspired them to actual include these sort of jams in their shows. So, after "Dirty Love," the broke into 18 minutes of "Jimmy Stewart."

It first settled into a nice groove; around 1:40 into it, it turned a bit darker (minor key) – this builds, urged on by the piano and cymbals. By the 7:00 mark it seriously sounds like an "Other One" jam, just thundering along. Things begin to quiet, and by 9:00, only the bongos and some ethereal sounds from the keys keep things floating. Pony jumps in there on his bass with some wonderful, slow repetition. Mirro joins on the kit, and Joel once again uses the Rhodes. This is definitely some post-rock/Tortoise (Thrill Jockey) jamming – does that come with living in Chicago?! Wow, very nice. Wonderful little section before the organ moves to a reggae beat. This moves to a middle eastern them, again governed by Joel, until it segues into "40's Theme."

As one can guess from the name, "40's Theme" deals with drinking beer. And eating chicken. Midwest, eh? Jake seemed to be a tiny bit mellower in this version – but Brendan certainly makes up for it as he raps behind Jake's chorus – Dre or Snoop? I can not tell . . . There is a great, slow jam out of the main chorus, one that builds upon itself led by the soloing of Brendan and Jake.

As they took a breather, they asked what everyone would like to hear – now, earlier in the night, Brendan informed Laura that they had reached their "cover quota" at the wedding. But some girl right up front kept yelling for the Jackson 5, and Pony gave in. So "I Want You Back" was next.

As soon as the Jacksons finished, Pony or Mirro mouthed "Q*Bert" and they went right into the older instrumental. Now, throughout the night, I had been requesting Miles' "It's About that Time." I had recently acquired UM's July show from Chicago's Navy Pier, and was blown away by that version with Fareed Haque; my sister had told me of how Joel just went berserk on the organ. I wanted to see that happen in this small bar. "Q*Bert" was traveling its normal course until around 2:50 when Pony started to subtly tease the Miles song; at 3:30, Joel started with theme. It wasn't until 4:20 when Brendan followed suit. It was great to look over at him with this big smile and see him smiling back. That feeling of recognition.

20 more seconds and the whole band is in full swing – "It's About That Time" was in full force. They went through the main theme two or three times, each time building upon the other. I was ready for Joel to just explode each time, and by the third time through, he just let loose on the organ – jumping up and down, using his forearms as well as his fingers. I tried to watch him and Brendan who was doing his best to keep up with Joel – but I couldn't stop my head from bouncing up and down (as my friend Gil told me afterwards – "it looked as though your head was going to explode"). What a way to end a show. Especially in such an intimate room.

What can I say. The first set was a good one – some old tunes, a couple new ones, a couple covers – there was a bit in there for everyone. But the second – that is why Umphrey's continues to grow. Let's hope that the next time they come through Pittsburgh they are in a bigger (and better) room.

09.21.01 – The Pittsburgh Deli Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Set One: The Fuzz, 2×2, Tribute to Spinal Shaft > jam, Divisions, Make Me, Hey 19, Roulette, Get in the Van
Set Two: Nothing 2 Fancy > jam > 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Soul Food II* > Bob jam > Space Funk Booty** > Pick Your Nose^ > Bob's Cloud > Dirty Love, "Jimmy Stewart" > 40's Theme, I Want You Back, Q*Bert > It's About that Time
Notes:
Nothing too Fancy > jam was about 20 minutes

  • with Jake beat boxing
  • only the ending

^ only the first verse; last full Pick Your Nose 03.17.99
"Jimmy Stewart" was around 17 minutes

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