Umphreys McGee, 9/28-10/2
Umphrey’s McGee: 5 days, 5 nights…all Midwest
Summer resurrected itself across small college havens and larger cities right at the beginning of a month notorious for beckoning the harbinger of frozen ennui in the Midwest. After going as far west as Red Rocks, and as far east as Higher Ground, it was time to engage Umphrey’s McGee, those odd metered pranksters on our collective home turf. With great pleasure I ask you to meet Brandon Cattle Prod’ DeJaynes from Pekin, IL, a town small enough to have plenty of time to get into lotsa crazy music, much like Morton Grove, IL, my home shweet home. We met at a weekly show I ran at Canopy Club in Urbana, IL, last spring and since have shared some soaring highs and disparaging lows on quests to calm our groove joneses. A fine writer in no need of the training he didn’t have, he’s “Cattle Prod” for the unwavering harassment he inflicts on folks to go on ridiculous show runs, often at the very last minute, like going to Austin from central Illinois over a weekend for one solitary show. Dreadful psychotic. Before the snow buried our plains, we hit up a few shows of our Midwest brethren in arms.
The second that Benji called and asked if I was interested in co-writing reviews for this 5-night run, the wheels in my head started turning. My mind alluded to comparisons of Obi-Wan Kenobi teaching a young Jedi the way of the force. It also was Benji who first alluded to “getting the opinion of the doctor as well as the attorney.” With all these allusions, I knew our heads were in the right place to begin the Umphrey’s McGee fall Midwest run. Therefore, we plotted our path of destruction and set out to wreak havoc on the tri-state area. Here are the events….
Blue Note, Columbia, MO- 9/28
“Hey, ran into some traffic, so I’ll be just a slight late,” I said to Brandon, on the way to Champaign from Chicago, not really worried about the time we’d arrive in Columbia.
“Get a damn move on, I must be on the wall every night for this run,” he replied.
“Calm yourself you fiend, remember that little garage band Widespread? They’re playing there tonight too.”
“Yeah yeah yeah. Just move yer ass!”
Brandon, Bill, Justin and I left at 3:30 pm and were the only people standing in front the Blue Note for an hour after getting there. Good thing he bitched about getting there so quick. As ambassadors, we explained to passersby that Panic was not playing at the Blue Note that night, and took a moment to hassle Kris Myers about the band’s alleged King Crimson covers in the works.
Settled at the front of the stage, we got some neck nodding during Higgins,’ a newer tune. It starts with a calm reggae feel, but shifts to a rock out chorus with a syncopated exercise segueing back to the verse. The middle had solid cock swinging rock to it, climaxing with evil guitar riffs as if Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss had been cranking Allman Brothers on the way to the show, but chose a more devilish take. Walletsworth’ had moments where Cinninger might as well have jumped out to the audience and beat folks over the head with his axe. Having stuck to the laid out structures for the first two, they eased into some experiments during Anchor Drops’ with quick dynamic rises, but still maintaining the smooth feel of the song’s beginning. Keeping that warmth, Kris Myers changed his drum beat to a triplet polyrhythm, and then de-evolving into a beat like Exodus,’ but really it was a quick, warm up Jazz Odyssey.’ The Jazz Odysseys have lately had more sudden weirdness to them than the Jimmy Stewarts, which have strutted more structure. The Umphrey’s cover is a crapshoot. While often amusing, novelty can overshadow quality, but we’ll get to that later. One point for quality goes to their take on When the World is Running Down You Make the Best of What’s Around.’ A band covering a tune can try to simply be authentic, yet like a xerox, one can only copy so closely. A new spin can be put on it, and there’s a hell of a chance it’ll go sideways and sub par than greatness. Better yet, put the two together, and like two genetic strains, their weak points just might cancel each other out, and now there’s a song that is as tight as the original, but still has a band’s stamp. Such was the case with World.’
It sounded like a tribal Santana tune at first, once World’ faded out. No one around had any idea what it was, which often means it’s a Stewart.’ Right as it built up with solid energy, they shifted gears and went into something not quite as jump enticing, but sure enough the tribal glory returned, tightened up and it was a jam off Third Stone From the Sun.’ If the set had lagged a bit in the fire area, the last two songs made up for it epically. My cuneiform looking notes for Utopian Fir’ have only one clear word “sweeT.” The T was emphasizedbut why? One possibility was seeing Jake and Brendan share the leadership of key changes that held the feel and energy steady while altering the sound enough to keep things interesting. The song morphed into Thin Air,’ slowing things down a bit with the opening reggae-ish part. Umphrey’s has this fire and ice balance which is Kris and Jake are fire, Andy Farag on percussion and bassist Ryan Stasik are ice, leaving Joel Cummins on keys and Bayliss to leap between the two. Often Joel is on the ice side and Bayliss in the fire spot, but when Cummins plays a piano solo, the man has been known to erupt something disgusting, a treat that came about during Air.’ With a brief touch of Scofield’s A Go Go,’ the band eased into a degeneration of Air,’ letting the energy build as they even brought back a bit of the Third Stone’ jam. The guitarists linked up into an evil duel that raged back and forth before it became the closing part from In The Hall of the Mountain King.’ But it didn’t end there. The set mightily closed with some loud metal riffing. Gotta love a band you can just as easily groove to as you can head bang.
Speaking of head bang, the second set opened with Running With the Devil,’ featuring the screech stylings of Kris Myers on vox. Back to the Umphs Cover Meter, this one is split a point for quality, a point for novelty. It was solidly authentic, but it’s still fucking coked out Van Halen! Oh, and a jackassery award to Myers, for flubbing the words to Van Halen with a lyric sheet hanging right in front of him. All was made psycho by one of the finer JaJunk’s I’ve heard in a bit of time. The tune has the capacity to get disjointed and ridiculous, but in a conscious way, with on and off beat switches and tight syncopation, but recently they haven’t pushed it to that Indiscipline’ by King Crimson realm of thoughtfully fucked up music. An early organ solo was colored simply by Bayliss with muted scratches that had a wet-sounding effect on it. Lately the middle section has been open for Stasik to lay some funkiness down, and lay down he did. They took their time to build the tune back up when Bayliss signaled a happy face for a key change to be in major. During the part right after the vocal return, Bayliss blended parts from earlier in the song while Cinninger, Cummins and Myers destroyed the song to end it. The Fuzz’ offered straighter, funky energy with more opportunity for Stasik to not simply hold it down. What we thought might be Divisions,’ really became Roulette.’ The band let loose disco groove during Tribute to the Spinal Shaft.’ The song morphed into Lay down Sally,’ and then became a jumpy tune that awoke pop culture memories of past, The Family Feud theme. The tune sped up and sped up until the band lost the handle and moved on to Push The Pig.’ The hardness of the tune was broken up by Cummins’ keyboard failing him, but the energy picked back up when Myers threw down dance beats without using his electric drum rig. Wife Soup’ introduced newcomers to the band’s jazz skills. Yes they do exist. Chords played by Cummins and Cinninger almost had no actual tone. With Cinninger and Stasik rubbing their strings together, the band ended the set with a ripping vamp. After a bit of coercion Cinninger, swilled down the remains of my whiskey flask. For the encore, the band kept spirits high with Slacker,’ a mix of joker feel, simple honest subject matter and odd-metered craziness, with next to no transitions. All things Umphrey’s.
The Canopy Club, Urbana, IL, 9/29
Walking into the Canopy Club after a long day at work, on little sleep, I felt stiffness in my back usually associated with sleeping in my car. Oh yes, I did sleep in my car last night! It was all coming back to me now. The Umphrey’s McGee fall tour was under way and it was time to suck it up. In case you do not know, the Canopy Club in Urbana, IL is notorious for its high-energy shows and over-sold crowds. This show would prove to be no different as tour heads from all over the Midwest filled the club to its gills. After a few quick stretches and a few quick beers, it was time to rock.
Opening act, The Talking Shoes, made their way to the stage to a modest cheer. The trio, composed of Ray White (guitar,vocals), Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums), have already proven themselves solid players in bands throughout the years. This confidence was apparent as they opened the set. At first listen, the band sounded like something out of a roadhouse, playing a straight-ahead 12 bar blues. Then, as the set went on, I noticed many subtleties that set them apart from that stigma. Ray White used a thumb picking technique that looked effortless while he poured his soul into the vocals. Greg Rzab layered a walking bass line with spastic slaps that made it look as if his bass was overheating and subsequently too hot to touch. Meanwhile, Jay Davenport displayed some of the best footwork I have seen in going between high hat and double bass fills. After a few songs, Ray White gave an open invitation for any guitarist to join him on stage. My friend and guitarist for Brainchild (out of Peoria, IL), Roy Ponce, was the only volunteer. Too bad he was a bit late getting to the stage or he would have jammed that night. However, White exchanged numbers and promised a sit-in later on in the run. I had almost forgotten that these people were just the opening band. That is, until, Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss made guest appearances on “Willie the Pimp” and “City of Tiny Lites”. The Umphrey’s rotation has contained both songs, so there was not any rust shaken off here. The texture of three guitars definitely gave these tunes a heavier edge when compared to the organ/keyboard tinged originals. Nonetheless, it left the audience with a taste of what was to unfold.
By the time that the crew turned on the smoke machines and Umphrey’s McGee took the stage, the crowd had whipped itself into a frenzy that made my hair stand on end. The band themselves looked amused at the warm reception as they took their places. With one collective deep breath, they jumped right into “Syncopated Strangers.” This opener did not disappoint, bringing a swell of progressive rock combined with a jazzy ending that tapered off into “Out Of Order.” An older tune that has become one of my favorites, it displayed some great start/stop guitar duals. In fact, I would rank it as the best post-Moog version of the song that I have heard. From this point, the band delved into a bit of the Midwestern spirit during “Phil’s Farm”. While I enjoy this tune as much as the next hick does, I wish that the band would break away from the middle drum section that has emerged as a standard for the song. Kris Myers can drum solo like no other, but I appreciate him much more when the entire band improvises.
The drum section gave way to a “Jimmy Stewart” that had a few heads turning. I thought that Ryan Stasik was building upon the bass section from Fugazi’s “Waiting Room”. We settled the dispute when my friend Jon brought to attention how this “Stew” was akin to the opening “Jazz Odyssey” from 5-1-05. Indeed, he was correct. “Partyin’ Peeps” would follow and continue with some good-humored lyrics about good friends, good music and most important, good beer! This fails to mention the dual guitar attack that builds into an eardrum-threatening crescendo before gently revisiting the opening theme. “Hajimemashite” seemed to lack a bit of the energy that I have seen previously. I still love the tension the songs builds, but the release lacked a bit as Bayliss sounded tired on vocals. This may have been part of the plan, as the people slowed things down before set break, playing “Water” with a sultry “Jazz Odyssey” sandwiched in the middle. The set closed with Scofield’s “A Go-Go” offered plenty of jazz guitar for any lounge cat to digest. The song has seemingly gone from relying heavily on improvisation to being played almost note-for-note, a testament to the work ethic that has propelled the band in the last few years.
The second set opened with a bit of a stutter. “Believe the Lie” has been the most frequently played song this year and it was beginning to seem like d vu. While it delivers plenty of tempo changes and melodic vocals, it just seems to be fit for mid-set, rather than a second set opener. I was beginning to wonder if this show would live up to its hype. My doubts were laid to rest when keys player Joel Cummins held the long-droning chords that would become “Nothing Too Fancy.” One of Umphrey’s most popular songs, it showcased some discipline within the band. At times, this song can become a mess of guitar shredding and crash cymbals, but not tonight. Ryan Stasik really impressed me with his suave tone. While some bass players rely on flashy slapping, Stasik has moved beyond that. The low-ender is much underrated when it comes to his patience and counter work to chord changes. After all, it provided the backbone for the “Jimmy Stewart” section that emerged. Laden with heavy power chords from Cinninger and Bayliss, the “Stew” slowly became the property of percussionist Andy Farag. While he ushered in some Latin undertones, the rest of the band played a very tasteful section, trading between guitar and bass. The pop-oriented “Passing” would be the only repeat from the bands last visit to Urbana.
This was a short breather before the craziness ensued. The band brought out bassist Greg Rzab for a rendition of “Robot World.” I definitely enjoyed seeing Rzab grin childishly as he plucked away at the improvisation in D-minor, but I hated seeing Stasik leave the stage to accommodate for space. It seems that the bassist leaves the stage for guests all too often. The piece was good, though, with Bayliss and Cinninger each dueling with Rzab before Ray White came out to add some vocals. The mayhem continued as the guys slid into “I am the Walrus,” with Cinninger shredding his guitar, adding some spice to the psychedelic keys played by Cummins. Before the crowd could fully understand what had happened, “Kabump” was underway and full of more antics. This time, Bayliss and Cinninger played a double beer bottle improv, ala the cowbell. The shenanigans continued as Cinninger picked up a balloon that drifted onto stage and began to “scratch” on it, using the static like a DJ spinning his favorite record. With the crowd in the palm of their hands, the band turned them into human jelly by crushing them with a closing “Pay the Snucka.” The beginning section gave all the usual band intros, but then gave way to some cowbell from Farag that led into a verse of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” This was seemingly foreshadowed during the beer bottle duet earlier, but, still, I don’t think anybody expected it. The second half of the song held some pure thrash that left not only my back aching, but my neck sore as well. Cinninger’s Van Halen-esque shred elicited cheers and devil horns from the crowd before Kris Myers brought us home with his pummeling double bass. Now, this is how you end a show, I thought.
It seemed that the audience was completely worn out by nights end, yet, an encore was on demand. As the band re-emerged from the shadows to greet the beckoning, Kris Myers must have felt the energy of the crowd hit him like a tidal wave. Myers dove in head first to the crowd and proceeded to “surf” half way to the soundboard before being dumped back onto stage. This would only be icing on the cake of this rip-roaring show, which would end as strongly as it had started, with “2X2.” Bringing the crowd to bob its’ head, then pump its fist and finally bounce in unison, “2X2” runs the gauntlet of Umphrey’s tricks. First, the song gives a great melody and catchy lyrics, and then it builds into a soaring guitar run before crashing into some thunderous bass lines accented by quick drum fills and piano trills. Overall, this show was definitely fulfilling, with a great balance of new and old songs that dictated the pace of the show. From the driving “Syncopated” opener to the smooth “Water” and “A Go-Go” then back to “Nothing Too Fancy”, ”Pay The Snucka”, and “2X2” closer, this show kept the audience guessing; which is what makes Umphrey’s a very accessible band for anybody wishing to hit the road.
The Pageant, St. Louis, MO, 9/30
The moment I stepped into the Pageant, I felt a different vibe throughout the crowd. The chatty buzz that surrounded the previous nights show was absent. A few members of my caravan seemed perturbed by the fact that this show was all ages and we would soon have to deal with giggling and questioning all night. This did not bother me one bit. Actually, it almost made me feel a bit proud to attend with so many newbies, just to show them the ropes. “If only I had seen Umphrey’s when I was 15, damn, I would have been there from day one,” I thought. Therefore, as I was pestered by the incessant questions from the brace-filled mouth of the kid behind me, I remembered to set a good example.
The Talking Shoes again opened up the show. The set would be almost the same as the night before, except for the addition of the hilarious Zappa cover, “The Illinois Enema Bandit.” Ray White explained the story behind it and then proceeded to introduce Joel Cummins as the guest on keys. This blues tune took on a new life of improvisation. The slapping of Greg Rzab’s bass coupled with Cummins’s synthesized keys provided a funk sound that took root. The Talking Shoes were beginning to grow on me and judging by the crowd response, I was not alone.
Walking out to the stage and taking their places, Umphrey’s McGee obviously had a game plan, but I had no idea what to expect. Would UM play it safe and save the heavy hitters for the two-night Madison run or would they let it all hang out in their first appearance at The Pageant? The opening number, “August” seemed to indicate that the band was planning something special. The composition is one of their first written and always gets the crowd involved right away. Full of bass lines that weave their way between the percussive flair of Andy Farag and Kris Myers, the song segued into a “Jazz Odyssey” section. This “JO” would start with Jake Cinninger laying down a riff of wah-wah’s, then Brendan Bayliss countering with a riff of his own. The “JO” reached its peak as Farag pounded on the bongos in stride with Myers as the band returned to finish “August.” The ambience lead into a very experimental version of “Dump City”. The percussion of Farag and Myers is what made this song interesting as well. Myers tinkered with plenty of rim shots that alluded to a rickety car traveling down a highway at full speed and on the brink of collapse. Cummins added some sporadic fills on the keys that further added to this mental picture.
Shifting gears, the band went into the space funk known as “Bright Lights.” Sounding like a slice taken out of the 1980’s dance club scene, the song relies as heavily on the synthesizer of Joel Cummins as it does the quick strumming of Cinninger. Tonight’s version gave way to some reggae-tinged improvisation that quietly turned into “Resolution.” I am not a big fan of “Resolution” and all its schizophrenic parts. The vocals go from melodic to demonic and the music follows suit. The song comes off more on the humorous side than it does on the inspirational. However, after a little experimental segment and a short “Another One Bites The Dust” tease, the song proved to be a nice springboard for “Ocean Billy” to dive off. “Ocean Billy” is a perfect example of how the nightly “Jimmy Stewart” and “Jazz Odyssey” sections are reworked into complete songs. Tracing its roots back to a 4-23-03 “Stewart”, the song is now full of somber piano and gentle guitar work that builds into a vocal tidal wave of soul and angst. The set closing “Bell Bottom Blues” was too much on the mellow side for my liking. An opportunity to wrap the set with a searing guitar solo or a manic drum display was traded for the slow Eric Clapton ballad…blah! Nonetheless, it left plenty of expectations for the second set.
The second set opened with the always welcome “Sociable Jimmy.” Containing some quick snare work from Myers complimented with some trance inducing keys from Cummins, the song captures a wide range of sound perfect for an opener. The “Der Bluten Kat” that followed allowed guest Ray White to expand on some vocals with a rap about “searching for the golden mushroom.” I am not sure exactly what he was talking about, but I sure got a good laugh out of it. This was all before Cummins led back into “DBK” through some wah effects of his own on keys. Another cover song was sprinkled into the set, this time it was “The Stranger” by Billy Joel. Normally, I would be upset to hear two slower covers in one night, but the way that Bayliss sang tonight was impeccable. It sounded very polished from the front row, partly due to a set of house speakers put on stage. From here, a strong “Ringo” trailed, complete with a “Jimmy Stewart” that had lyrics from Bayliss added in. When the set closing “2nd Self” kicked in, I seriously doubted that it would be the closer. After all, this was only the fifth song in the set. Much to my dismay, this standard version ended a set full of more experimentation than the first. I was really hoping for a bit more direction in the set. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the improvisation, but looking back some of it seemed a bit gratuitous. I was wondering why the band chose “DBK” and “Ringo” as the songs for experimentation. Both songs are already stretched out, with numerous sections that can take on lives of their own without the need for a “Jimmy Stewart” section. I was just hoping for a solid encore before I made my way up to Madison.
As Umphrey’s began to strum out the chords to “In the Kitchen,” I realized what the band might have been planning for this show. My hypothesis is that the band wanted to highlight the spectrum of their catalog that would appeal to a new crowd. After “Kitchen,” the guys slipped in “Mullet (over)”, adding a little bit of down-home humor with Bayliss using his beer bottle as a slide before bounding on Farag’s bongos. If this was somebody’s first show, I am sure that one left with their tongues tied trying to find the correct words to describe this band. If this was somebody’s twentieth show, one might think that it was standard and left plenty of options for the last two nights of the run. Regardless of seniority on tour, any fan would have to respect the musicianship displayed tonight and leave feeling satisfied. I know I did.
Barrymore Theater, Madison, WI-10/1
As my co-conspirator noted Talking Shoes added some serious spice to this run. An unlikely power trio, in the thunder coming from the tweak bass of Greg Rzab (whose played with everybody but God) and the hard hits of Jay Davenport on drums, but what ties it all together is the calm, tastefully picking of Ray (a Zappa alum) White paired with his bellowing honey voice. But White had a bit of a problem.
At Canopy Club that Thursday, he met our friend Roy Ponce, an excellent guitarist from the Peoria, IL band Brainchild, a name you should remember if you like complicated, yet fun music. White told Roy he could sit in at some point during the run, only he left his guitar in Chicago before coming to Madison. Roy offered his axe to Ray, and when Talking Shoes came out to open up with the sleazy shuffle of Teenie Weenie,’ Ray kept smiling at Roy until he unstrapped the guitar and handed it to Roy in the front to solo and rock out with the band. Rzab came by during Roy’s solo to give him five, and without missing a beat on the bass. The band shifted to a Latin beat with a mellow feel with enough space for Rzab to lay down his hard finger pluckings that sounds like slapping but it ain’t. That’s how hard Rzab plays. Cinninger came out for a hard Willie The Pimp,’ and Farag added some conga work to this sweet road travel tune. The band closed out with a charged, City of Tiny Lites’ with Cummins out on keys. Rzab took this phallic looking balloon and kept messing with Ray, putting it between his legs, and yet neither of them missed a beat.
Umphrey’s first set opened with them going right to rocking business with Plunger.’ On #5,’ Bayliss added some tapping to the evil tune before jumping suddenly to some fierce picking. Bottom ’ also displayed some sick guitar work, but more catching was the band’s return to the main song structure after a dynamic build that landed on an off beat, with the whole band together on the hit. Divisions’ brought out the fury of Andy Farag with a mean percussion solo, only to have Myers return for an interlocking addition that had the two of them switching feels on the spot. The song melted into Sweetness’ for long enough to build up with mad energy. Changes kept happening quickly, going into minor keys for a while. Stasik, who really stepped out hard on this run, busted some funky lines. The band went into a middle part from Bridgeless,’ and nothing else from the tune, which pissed me and a few others off. People were screaming as late as 5 in the morning at Quad’s house about that tease. Divisions’ came back to put a period on the whole thing. Groove Holmes’ had some simple relief from the heavy jams. 40’s Theme’ is typically real groove based, but this time it had a lot of eerie space to it. Bayliss had really enjoyed his watery guitar effects on this run. Triple Wide’ had some new parts to it during the techno section before the live drums kick in. With a bit of Ocean Billy’ and a section sounding a lot like Jungle Boogie’ the band smoothed it all back with a return to Triple Wide.’ The band walked off one by one until only Joel was left to serenade the crowd on his piano.
Set two began with an agile move of Stasik on keys and Cinninger on bass for In Violation of Yes.’ During Higgins,’ Farag stepped out in the spotlight with some fluid bongo and conga work. The tune keeps getting tighter and more powerful, especially during the ending. While Much Obliged’ hit a lull, Jay Davenport and Greg Rzab came in to give Myers and Stasik a break for the Stewart.’ Cinninger and Rzab went off on a lick trading duel, some seemingly impossible for a bass and others unlikely for a guitar, but matching each other and challenging each other back and forth. Liz Floersch, friend and photog for the run, chatted it up with Rzab before the show, and he said he’d play with one of her shoes before the night was over. Up went Liz’s sandal, and on to Rzab’s bass. Further into the Stewart, Farag and Davenport lit it up the energy together, trading fills and linking up smoothly. When things calmed down, Rzab and Bayliss fucked with each other’s pedals before the song died down. Atmosfarag’ was a welcome tune to chill things a little. Keeping with the relaxed vibe a little too long was Africa.’ A big point for novelty there. Hurt Bird Bath’ had Stasik and Farag jumping over to the fire side. With Talking Shoes on this run, Umphs had Ray White come out to sing over some improvised parts with them, belting some numbing soul at times, and for this one he sang about the quirks of a night adventure. The whole schmear ended with a bit of the sad Star Wars theme. Great American’ brought the set simply to a close with a huge vamp ending to blow everyone’s ear drums out for the night. According to the locals, a two night run at the Barrymore had not been done since String Cheese a few years back, and tickets were hard to come by for this one. A girl near the front asked me to describe what else they do other than the stuff they played that night.
“You like Zeppelin?” I said, after glancing at a set list taped onstage.
“The hell do you think?” she retorted with a look of aghast and then a smile.
“Just hang out for a sec.”
The closer was a loud, raucous and fierce Song Remains The Same.’ A fine way to headbang out whatever fumes of energy was left.
We spent the better part of the night around a keg at Quad’s house arguing music and sharing wisdom from many parts of the country. While Brandon and Justin enjoyed a crowded hotel room floor, Bill and I gave a ride home to Adam Bissen, music writer for Madison’s Core Weekly, and knocked out at 5 on some spacious couches. The next day we found ourselves in the middle of the Marijuana March up State Street to the capital building in Madison. Gotta love the timing. Marches aside, Madison is one awesome town.
Barrymore Theater: Madison, WI- 10/2
In which our reviewers trade off on lead via cell phone
BD: For a band that plays the same stuff, since they just got together, they rock it. It was awesome to see Roy jam out with them.
BF: Yeah, he tore it up pretty good, especially since he couldn’t hear what was going on (the group used in-ear monitors). What about that Whipping Post?
BD: That was the sum up of their four night run. Cool to hear Rzab and White add their touch to the song in the way they’ve played been doing it for years. What was that deal about the bass Rzab said he had under his bed?
BF: Some Rickenbacker that belongs to someone famous, he’s a crazy ass. It was awesome to see Roy’s guitar up there onstage.
Umphrey’s Set I
“Get In The Van”
BD: Great opener. Almost a rarity. I just like the quick time changes, almost Primus-esque. Few bands can open a show with an instrumental and get the reception they got.
BF: They got right to the weird right away. I have down in my notes liquid Jake,’ and no that’s not some KY-like stuff they sell at the merch table. He slinkily slid up and down the neck adding lotsa color. But not really doing his hard punchy thing.
“Women Wine and Song”
BD: Good first set song, with the ragtime feel, although that was more of that Jazz Odyssey, but it loosened the crowd up and got the blood up, especially after sleeping on a hotel room floor the night before.
BF: You should’ve driven Adam home, and you would’ve gotten the couch. I like the link up with Jake and Brendan, nice and mean.
BD: “They could’ve played so many other songs, and they played it four nights before in Columbia. Should’ve done Fussy Dutchman.’
BF: True thing. Heard that tune plenty of times in the last few shows. Good lead in into it, though. That worked well with the Odyssey. Joel tore it up nice towards the end.
BD: That middle improv part was solid. I don’t know if that was a full-out Jazz Odyssey
BF: Well, it was marked Whipping Post jam.’ It was almost Whipping Post, although not quite. It was in four and not in six, or whatever the hell it’s in. Six and then seven, fuck I know not. That’s why I play drums.
BD: Worthless drummer. Joel kind of played around with the effects on his B-3. It was this ambient, trance effect. It might be an autoharp, but it made a spacey sound.
BF: I have down Greg Rzab with Polish flag.’ What was that?
BD: Oh yeah! Rzab came out real quick waved it around and went back into the shadows. After Joel’s effects kind of wore down, Brendan signaled everyone to get back in for this thumping version of the opening theme of the tune. They do that pause in Padgett’s,’ and slip in a random quip. One of them said durka, durka.’ Not as good as the bummer version of the Team America theme’ two Canopy shows ago (4-15-05).
BF: I really dug this Double F,’ mainly for the Stewart that was set up after it. I don’t care how many people bitch about white guys doing reggae, why the hell not? Play the reggae.
BD: Yeah, I’m into that song and some of the earlier tunes that have such a thing. That Stewart with the improv Bayliss lyrics, I listened to some older Stewarts and found his stuff has been real somber lately. A lot of stuff about moving on. This one was: You don’t have to wait to long/ cause Sunday morning I’ll be gone/ you’re close but too far away/ you don’t have to wait to long/ cause Monday morning I’ll be gone/ good to see these better days/ far too close and far away. The Ringo Stewart’ from St. Louis had some hard stuff like that.
BF: That Stewart to me was the most soulful music I’ve heard from them. There was something about it, it was so simple and they just poured it out. I mean, people talk about who can and can’t play soul, but in reality it’s a feeling not a sound. Who can say the white kid from the ’burbs can’t play soul, if it’s about what’s making them hurt?
BD: After that bullshit tease the night before, they finally busted the insane psycho circus that was Bridgeless.
BF: I only have one thing written down for that, four exclamation points!!!!
BD: It’s a complete song made from seven Stewarts from years before. It has melody, searing guitars, crazy drums, and no bridgehence
BF: Ah, clever fucking toilet scholars aren’t they? And after some hard rockin, they play Huey Lewis.
“Heart and Soul”
BD: They had a habit of closing sets with covers. There was A Go Go’ at Canopy, Bell Bottom Blues’ in St. Louis, andI guess they did Triple Wide’ first night at the Barrymore.
BF: I swear I thought they slipped in a little Jungle Boogie’ that became Oceans Billy,’ but not for sure.
BD: I missed that one. They really could have just closed the set with Bridgeless. I was just wondering why they are closing with covers now.
BF: I had a meter for covers, either they got a point for quality or novelty, and the Huey was fun but still novelty.
“All in Time”
BD: After the incredible New Deal set break tunes, All in Time’ was shit. Na, I keed I keed. Solid opener to get the crowd rockin out. Kris and Andy were pretty complimentary with Kris working the hi hat and Andy filling in gaps on the crash cymbals.
BF: Another tune on this run where Stasik really busted some shit. I swear someone kidnapped him on this run and soaked his ass in gasoline and lit.
BD: You need help.
“Smell the Mitten”
BD: The stink palm of the Umphreys catalogue. It takes hours to wash away, some swass on your hand all day. I don’t have notes from that, but the tune is awesome. They stuck to the form of it. Saved the experiments for the Bad Poker.
BF: Another one where I only have one word down: evil.
BD: Seemingly standard song, hillbilly truck stop type of music. Then they busted the Sweet Home Alabama’ riff with Bayliss singing Werewolves of London.’
BF: Yeah, that was a very live Zappa moment, with them pointing out how the two songs are relatively the same thing. And then adding Mr. Fantasy’ on there. Ah, music nerdery at its finest. Right when they hit a lull, Jake looked at Brendan basically saying What now?’ Brendan shrugged saying, Fuck if I know’ And right then Rzab came out.
BD: I didn’t like at Canopy that Stasik left the stage during Robot World,’ even if it was for Greg Rzab whose a damn fine plucker, especially cause the song was written by Stasik. So, I was enthralled to see Stasik stand toe to toe with one of the best in the business. During that duet he matched Rzab note for note. The rest of the band got to switch it a bit and move around.
BF: Ah yeah, Jake when on Kris’ kit while he took a break and Brendan played on Jake’s equipment for a bit. Oh, and what the fuck was with Jake’s Tibetan monk howl during the breaks? Odd, very odd.
BD: He’s known for his scatting and beat boxing. Various times he’ll just throw weird vocal shit in there. During the Good Morning’ encore at New Years, he did all the animal sounds. Almost sounded like a click track. They did some Star Wars cantina when Rzab left to hefty applause.
BF: Why God why I’m through with that tune.
BD: A black hole on the set. Damn top forty radio shite, made me wonder whether the whole rest of the set would spiral down into similar crap. I feel like it’s a South Park song. But it was all put right when Andy came out.
“Ain’t No Fun”
BD: Just when I thought they couldn’t do anything stupider they come back and TOTALLY redeem themselves! I thought all was going down the hole, out came
BF: Andy, introduced as Cousin Eli. They got every part of that song down. Myers even shouted a few words from Doggy Dogg World.’
BD: And I’ve never seen Adam Budney come out before, he was MC Pumpanickel.
BF: I dug Bayliss as Snoop.
BD: He dropped the N-bomb and everything.
“Crooked One > Pequod > Ahab”
BD: They took that tune, which is usually very standard, but were able to put a unique spin on it by segueing into another song and another. Pequod with Ahab at the helm. It was nice to sail theor ride the
BF: Ah drop the fucking sea analogy! So they started with Crooked to Pequod to Ahab back to Pequod and then finally to Crooked.
BD: It seems Ahab varies. Maybe it’s the name for the middle improv part of Pequod. But I’m not sure. Don’t quote me on it.
BF: Oh, don’t worry.
“Miss Tinkle’s Overture”
BD: The opening to Tinkle’s had a some of Shatterted’ by the Stones with Kris singing a few words. The tune was welcomed, but White’s vocals about the decoder ring and the Christmas thing kind of brought that song down. Then there was that crazy thing over and over and over. I thought I was going to go crazy if it didn’t end.
BF: It was a bit much, I really was into it the other times he came up. But that was really stretched too long.
BD: The setlist I got said they were gonna do Dr. Feelgood into Mulche’s and they just ended with Tinkles.’ It seemed like the band really wanted to end the song, but you really can’t just cut off the great Ray White. So instead they ended a five night Midwest run with fucking All Night Long.’
“Encore: All Night Long”
BF: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it againFUCK LIONEL RITCHIE. Fuck him.
BD: As soon as I saw Jake walk over to the percussion I knew it only meant one thing.
BF: See this was the worst example of novelty over quality for a cover. Why bother with the piece of shit other than to be like, Hey we do this to! Did you see that? See what we did?’
BD: We’re so versatile and bad ass we can close out a Midwest run with All Night Long.’’ It left a taste of vomit in my mouth all night long. Why not Hey 19,’ or anything. Only thing worse would be no encore. Why not an original? It’s the Midwest! All I can say is WHY?!
BD: They could’ve finally dropped the Crimson cover, if they get their asses in gear. But no. Fuckin’ Lionel Richie. Dance on this ceiling.
Final Summation: BF
No matter what ill I might have to say about an UM show, there’s always a face in the crowd that has never seen them before, and the face says, “Wha?!” I’m a fan of that. It’s nice to show folks what really is the sound of white guys from small Midwest towns. If you grow up in the Midwest you love fun, and you work, but when you deal with shitty weather all year I think you learn not to take too many things seriously. But be well at your unseriousness. That’s the UM message as far as I can tell.
Final Summation: DB
A lot of loose ends were tied up. In my head I played the seven degrees of Zappa. My first published review included Ray White and Greg Rzab as special guests with Mike Mirro’s new band, which ran just around the time Umphrey’s played two shows in Chicago on the Skyline Stage. White and Rzab also sat in at those shows, and they announced Talking Shoes would join them on this run. Along with that, my next review was about Brainchild, so with Roy Ponce playing with Ray White and Talking Shoes it felt like I shook that hand that shook the hand of Zappa. The odd fact was that the notebook I used for all of this I dubbed The Cosmic Book: proving how small the world is.’ It seems like where the book went proved the title. Everything came full circle, and that can only happen if the world is not so big after all.