Umphreys McGee in Europe, 3/14-21
The flight from Chicago to London left me plenty of time to reflect on all of the trips I had taken over the past year and how most of them revolved around music. Even more importantly, it left me time to think about my current trip and how things will pan out. The realization was starting to take hold. I was going to witness the first Umphrey’s McGee European tour. By the time I had my 3rd Heineken, the perma grin had set in and I was already imagining the upcoming shows in my head. Ponderings as to “how many people will show up?” and “what will be the demographic of these people?” began to pick at my brain. In the U.S., Umphrey’s gets lumped into the Jamband category, which doesn’t accurately describe their sound. In Europe, Umphrey’s has distribution of their albums licensed to InsideOut Music, who also distributes for Progressive Rock bands, including: Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings, The Tangent and IQ, among others. This lumps Umphrey’s into that same Prog Rock category, which probably describes them better than Jamband, but, still, not completely accurate. Can it be possible that Umphrey’s has become so diverse that they have created a unique genre? I have heard them labeled as “self-indulgent orchestral rock” but how about something a little shorter and sweeter? Perhaps, “Improgisation” or “Improg” for short, would fit them a little better? All labels put aside, UM was poised to bring their rock show to a new audience. This being said, it left me in a unique position in which I could witness Umphrey’s McGee under a completely different context.
The Mean Fiddler
March 14th 2006
After arriving at Heathrow Airport and meeting up with my friend, Pete, we managed to see various landmarks that day. We moseyed around the Tube, hitting Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Parliament before heading over to the venue to scope things out. After several trips around the block, looking for a marquee, we found The Mean Fiddler. Trouble is there was no marquee, only a modest sign that hangs in front of two iron doors. It was on those doors that we noticed a note saying that the box office for the venue was two doors down at a pub. It felt like we were walking into a dungeon, not a concert hall. At the bottom of the steps we found an open room with a stage at its front, a bar at the back and in between, a caged in soundboard. A very small wrap-around balcony hovered over the floor. I estimated that the room could hold 700 tops. Our timing was impeccable, as we arrived just before sound check. This gave me a chance to prepare my notes and listen to some stage banter. After catching several songs, we had just enough time to chat with a few of the guys, getting their impressions of the city, and then eat dinner before the show.
The initial crowd that poured in was meager and mostly American. This gave me a nice sense of community, as I knew several people who gathered at the stage and the rest I had met in passing. As the hour drew nearer, I noticed more and more locals coming in. The crowd had grown to about 200 by show time, which is one of the smallest crowds I had ever seen at an Umphrey’s show. As the lights went down and the band took the stage, the crowd mustered all they could for a welcoming cheer. The childish grins on the players’ faces said it all.
The band ushered in the UK crowd with an opening “Walletsworth.” This version, full of dynamic guitar riffs and a soft melody, was consistent with most other versions of the song, giving the crowd something to chew on. “Women, Wine and Song” kept the energy rising with its simple message: Life is short, have fun! After a slight pause, guitarist Jake Cinninger started playing some soft jazz chords that built up into “Blue Echo”. The band must have been feeling a bit loose this night as improvisation carried the song into its “techno” second half. Joel Cummins led the charge with some nice trance undertones on his moog that became a canvas for dual guitar textures. Brendan Bayliss would strum a few chords while Cinninger began to do some one-finger slides. This ambiance led into a short, but tension-building “Jimmy Stewart”. I really had to give kudos to soundman Kevin Browning at this point. Kris Myers and Andy Farag had a dry sounding snare and steel drum combo to complement the dungeon-like effects on their cymbals, making them sound wet. Add this to Ryan Stasik’s reverb-heavy bass and it made for a very thick sounding rhythm section. The “Stew” segued into an exploratory “Thin Air” that danced around a salsa beat before entering “In the Hall of the Mountain King” for the ending.
“Kabump” followed in the adventurous footsteps of the previous songs, leading into another “Jimmy Stewart”. This time, the theme was built around some two finger tapping from Bayliss that was layered over top of a few resonating chords from Cinninger. The segment built steam as Stasik laid down a somber yet punchy bass line for Bayliss to use his wah pedal over. While there were some interesting transitions, it seemed that this “Stew” never really took flight. Any lack of direction was forgotten by the time that the piece segued into “Glory.” This has become an anthem of sorts at Umphrey’s shows and this was no exception. The song built into its soaring high before bringing us back down with a lullaby ending. The set would come to a close with “Bridgeless”, dedicated to Storm Thorgerson (who designed the cover art to Umphrey’s new album, Safety in Numbers). I was really hoping for a break from a standard version, but like most of the set, the song stayed true to its roots. Maybe in time this song will become a vehicle for exploration, but not on this night.
The set break gave me just enough time to pick up a copy of Safety in Numbers, shake Mr. Thorgerson’s hand and get back to my spot on the rail. I also noticed that maybe another 100 people had ventured in, bringing the attendance to about 300. The second set opened with the crowd pleasing “Wife Soup”. While this song definitely encompasses all things Umphrey’s, it didn’t stray much from the album version. After a hard-rocking ending, the pace of the show slowed down a bit with “Example 1.” This was a welcome selection, being that I haven’t heard this tune in quite some time. The middle section was extended beyond its jazzy roots to include some nice “dubbing” by Jake Cinninger, using his foot pedal wizardry to create a nice atmosphere. The easy flow to the show was disrupted when the band showcased a new instrumental song entitled “Eat”. Coming from the King Crimson vein, “Eat” can exercise the progressive demons in all of us, yet it remains tight and short. Watch for this tune to expand in the following months, as it has the potential to become the centerpiece of any set. “Anchor Drops” followed, lending another chance to “breathe easy” before the set erupted with “Syncopated Strangers.” The open-to-interpretation introduction began with a funky beat that slowly escalated into the choppy riffs that hold the song together. Opening up the song further, the band went into yet another “Jimmy Stewart”. This particular piece had me guessing the whole time. At first, it sounded like Cinninger was going to venture into “Norwegian Wood”, but Kris Myers starts this driving beat that prompted Bayliss to bounce along. Could this be the start of “Take Me Out”? I wondered. Before the section took off, Ryan Stasik starts in with a hypnotic bass line, resembling “The End,” with Bayliss and Cinninger teasing “Partyin’ Peeps.” Nah, they wouldn’t do that, would they? The thoughts of all these similarities almost made me forget who I was watching. The “Stew” just had that many transitions, displaying Umphrey’s and their ADD style at its best before segueing back into the ending of “Syncopated.” Adding another transition, “Water” emerged and put my feet back on the ground. The set would close with a very standard “Roulette”. I have been spoiled with some outstanding cuts of this song lately, which made this particular one seem inadequate for a set closer. I was hoping for more of an exclamation point on the evening, but I guess that’s why there is an encore.
Joel Cummins would enter the spotlight first, giving us a long synthesized introduction before the rest of the band came back out. By the time Cummins had moved to his piano, the band was starting to pound out “Believe the Lie.” The opening track from the new album, “BTL” has grown in its dynamics, making it worthy of an encore placement. Receiving a respectable ovation, the band expressed their gratitude to the crowd, and then disappeared into the shadows. In reflection, I thought that this show had its moments of brilliance, but lacked in overall adventure. Nonetheless, I am sure anybody who was seeing the band for the first time was exposed to all the facets that make Umphrey’s McGee so versatile. Songs such as “Bridgeless” and “Eat” provided the progressive structure with definite boundaries, while, “Blue Echo” and “Syncopated Strangers” added in the element of surprise. This balanced show sat well with me as I wandered London throughout the rest of the night. That’s saying a lot, considering I ended up eating Walker’s Beef and Onion Crisps and sleeping on an airport floor while waiting for a 6:00 AM flight to Milan, Italy.Transylvania Club Milan, Italy March 15th 2006
The flight from London to Milan gave me that first “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” feeling. Waking up to see the hundreds of snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps poking above the cloud line was an amazing sight. For a moment, I thought I was dreaming about the ice planet Hoth, rather than traveling to Italy. A short nap later and I was in Milan. Accompanied by fellow “borters” Pete, Nick, Greg, James, Pick, Rachel and Stephanie, I made my way to the town’s center station. From there, we took cabs to the Transylvania Club to assess the situation before getting lunch. The band’s stage manager, Robbie Williams, and manager, Vince Iwinski, who allowed us to store our luggage back stage during the show, greeted our group. This was truly a great gesture, saving us all the headache of finding storage until our 6 AM flight the next day.
The Transylvania Club would truly live up to its Dracula potential. I found the lighting to be dim, skulls on the beer taps, paintings adorning the walls, and a hole in the ground that was called a toilet. The room itself was open with a few seats at stage left, the bar at stage right with the stage being half the size it was the night before. The band was using rental gear and didn’t have room for much of it. I noticed that Jake had to put his pedal board on top of Joel’s organ. It was actually kind of funny to look at the stage and then think of the music that was going to come from it. What was even more humorous was to look around the venue and see that only about 100 people would witness this spectacle. The locals that came out to the show knew little of the “American Jam Scene”. Instead, they seemed to be more interested in the progressive elements of Umphrey’s McGee. Just as the band was taking the stage, shouts for “Der Bluten Kat” and “Hurt Bird Bath” were heard from one local, turning several of our heads.
“#5” was the opening song, setting an eerie mood that was fitting for the venue. The song slowly builds steam until percussionist Andy Farag kicks it into gear with some handy conga work. On this cue, the rest of the band falls into this spiraling section of evil riffs. The dark vibe would continue with “White Man’s Moccasins,” a song fit together by sections of jazz guitar genius. Another newer tune, “Morning Song” made a short, but interesting appearance. I remember being amused at Jake Cinninger lending his beat box skills to a part where Kris Myers would normally use his electronic drum pad. A very uplifting “Much Obliged” would follow this enlightening ballad. I was beginning to get the creeps at this venue, but “MO” put the smile back on my face. The first “Jimmy Stewart” that developed out of the song was somewhat hindered by the lack of equipment on stage. The lack of in-ear monitors seemed to give the improvisation a bit more free form to it. Jake had to tune his guitar a couple of times, while Brendan Bayliss ran some quick scales. After a brief “Stairway to Heaven” tease, “Pay the Snucka” started to find its way into the mix. Bayliss lent the usual rant about buds, burgers, body odor, bikes, bad habits, but opted not to mention the back hair. This was before the second part, “the double down” as I call it, gave a little bounce to the crowd and even threw in a “Roundabout” tease for good measure. I remember thinking about how this must be the first time in about half a year that Joel Cummins played this song without a moog. The death metal ending of “Snucka” gave way for the peaceful little ditty, “Kat’s Tune.” Based on a few jazz chords, “Kat’s Tune” served as a nice introduction to “2nd Self”, which closed the set in dramatic fashion.
Set break provided a little more time to converse with the locals and get a couple of drinks before Umphrey’s dropped the “Plunger” on us. Having heard this song plenty, I was less than thrilled to have it open the set. Besides watching the locals marvel at Andy Farag’s now-famous castanet section, it was uneventful. That is, until a “Jimmy Stewart” emerged from the tail end and quickly grabbed my attention. It was fun to watch Jake give the hand signals while the rest of the band followed. The progression led into a loose version of “Ringo.” Given a slight pause for some more beat box from Cinninger and Bayliss, the song was carried by some improvisation before segueing into “Andy’s Last Beer.” At this point in the show, I had left my usual post on the rail. I opted to get myself a beer, though it would not be MY last, and dance with the locals. It was great to see so many of them trying to keep time during the clapping section of “ALB.” The “Passing>Slacker” set closer was a dynamic combination, starting with a ballad of homage then moving into the frenetic story of the underdog. This one-two punch put the crowd into roar. Well, maybe a growl.
The band decided to have a little fun during the encore. Unfortunately, it was at the crowd’s expense. I found myself sloshing my beer across the dance floor as the opening chords of “Der Bluten Kat” were played. After about 30 seconds of “DBK,” it was aborted in favor of the fresh-off-the-shelf, “Liquid.” I really like the effects that Andy Farag adds to this adaptation, giving it the life it needs. The ending of the song nearly falls apart before heading into “Professor Wormbog”. The song was a nice consolation for the “DBK” tease, adding a touch of fusion to the evening.
After the show the locals wanting to get a copy of the demo disc bombarded me. The lack of a UM Live recording even required me to give web addresses to those that did not receive a demo. Exhausted, I made my way across town, acquiring a bottle of wine before going to the airport. It wasn’t long before I finally noticed that I had also met up with friends Joe, Rachel, Tom, Katie, Jordan and Evan. Apparently, we decided to have a jam session at 5:30 AM in the middle of Bergamo Airport. It was a perfect ending to the evening, but now on to Paris.
La Boule Noir
March 16th 2006
I finally managed to get some sleep at our hotel in Paris, although I have been told that I sleep walked through customs and our cab ride to the hotel. Eventually, I slept, awoke and then traveled about a half-mile down the road to La Boule Noir. We found a line outside the venue a few hours before doors were scheduled to open. This looked promising even though a local member of the press, Dan, told us that the venue only had a capacity of 200. Entering the venue, I found it to be quite cozy. This narrow room, barely wide enough to fit the stage, held a bar in the back and, well, that’s about it. I made my way to the stage to find more familiar faces. Joining our crew were Quad, Allen, Scott, Sasha, Gabe, Robyn, Santiago, Ashley and her bitchin’ mom! Our crew of about 25 or so made up about a quarter of the crowd that night. The rest were older locals sporting leather jackets and finely combed hair. Nonetheless, we were all here for one thing, a rock show.
The first set would start with a serious bang as “Hurt Bird Bath” spread it wings and, seemingly, took flight. I use this cheesy metaphor because I have no other way to describe the magnitude of this song. Clocking in around the 30-minute mark, “HBB” went from its drop D intro to a tumultuous middle section full of laser beam inspired moog work from Joel Cummins. I believe that I even heard an “Echoes” tease in there somewhere. The song never went into a “Jazz Odyssey” or a “Jimmy Stewart” but contained “about 15 minutes of improv,” as Jake Cinninger put it. After such a stellar opener, “Push the Pig” did all it could to keep the energy flowing. Starting with heavy guitars, and then moving into a dance groove, it gave the crowd plenty of reason to bounce. The blistering pace of the show would slow down a bit as “The Pequod” took advantage of the great acoustics the venue had to offer. For whatever reason, I have a deep appreciation for this song. An intense feeling of calmness rushes over my body, reminding me of how a bottle of milk might sooth a screaming baby. Before easing me to sleep, the ambiance of “Ahab” perked me up as I knew that he would soon steer “The Pequod” back to shore. “The Fussy Dutchman” would make a rare appearance as the set closer. Although I did not expect to hear this song until the Amsterdam shows (for obvious reasons), it was quite welcome. Guitarist Brendan Bayliss owned this song, arpeggiating his way through a solo and leading the transition back to the main theme. This provided the exclamation point on a ground breaking opening set.
The second set would pick up where the first left off. An extended guitar and moog intro developed into the party anthem, “Bright Lights.” A very fitting song for Paris, it lent yet another opportunity for us to dance in time to Joel Cummins’ synthesized tinkering. A “Jimmy Stewart” would pop up and set the tone right away. Kris Myers provided the house beat and Andy Farag filled in with some soft cymbal work. Ryan Stasik added a walking bass line over which Bayliss could add his guitar effects. Jake Cinninger utilized this time to get some tech work done on his foot pedals, while Cummins laid on some heavy organ tones. Emerging from his equipment problems, Cinninger started in with a strong “All Things Ninja” tease. So much so that I wrote it in my set list book a bit premature. The band would instead segue into “The Bottom Half,” a composition that would be mistaken for a pop song at first listen, it becomes laden with blazing guitar runs and peppered with hard drum fills. From there, “Resolution” took the torch and ran into the second “Jimmy Stewart” of the set. In what would normally seem as a momentum killer, Jake Cinninger’s foot peddles acted up again, prompting stage manager Robbie Williams to make a quick fix. With much credit to the crew’s handy work, Jake recovered and a full band segue into Miles Davis’ “It’s About That Time” was right on cue. Instantly, I found myself jumping like a mad man as the jam brought the tension to a boiling point. The moment the song hit its peak; “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” dropped out of nowhere and caught us all off guard. Even the elder Frenchman at the show smirked in amusement as they were overcome by a dual guitar attack complemented by some marching snare, crash cymbals, popping bass lines and keyboard frills a few. As if that weren’t enough, those pour souls must have had their faces melted off by the time “Mulche’s Odyssey” crept out of “Tinkle’s.” The aforementioned segues are quite possibly the best I had ever seen by any band. After digesting a 4-song sandwich, with a big glob of improvisation in the middle, I had my game face on. Umphrey’s McGee on the other hand, laughed and joked their way through the song, changing a few lyrics to reference their stay in France. “Give me some coffee, crumpets, and bacon, cuz’ my stomach’s all red,” Cinninger crooned. I nearly lost it. How could a band be in the process of completing one of the most complicated segues I have seen and still have the audacity to have fun? Only Umphrey’s McGee could combine this degree of musicianship with a laid back attitude and actually pull it off.
The humor would continue with “Women, Wine and Song,” which included a “crepes” reference. Couple that with its already pertinent lyrics and before you know it, the crowd is raising their wine glasses toasting this amazing set of music. The set would close with “The Song Remains The Same” by Led Zeppelin. Instantly recognized by most in attendance, it gave a common ground for us all, whether this was your 1st show or your 100th show. As the song ended, the band left the stage one at a time, until Cinninger, Cummins and Myers were left to play a few bars of “Rain Song” before ending the set.
The crowd was in all-out party mode at this point. To pass the time before the encore a “We want the Umph!” chant was started. Before long, the entire crowd was going full steam ahead. “We want the Umph! Gotta’ have that Umph!”...I have seen U.S. crowds with less energy. The band emerged and was visibly taken aback by the response. Jake started in with the “We Want the Funk” riff and then added a little beat-box; all the while the audience continues the “We Want the Umph” chant. Somewhere in there the opening chords to “Uncommon” were played. This made no difference to the audience, as the venue now chanted as loud as ever. The funniest part was how Brendan Bayliss enthusiastically encouraged the audience to turn it up a notch. I am not sure if he wanted to create a unique band/audience connection or just simply goof on bassist Ryan Stasik, who, no matter how hard he tried, couldn’t seem to play the right bass line. The band would dance in and out of “Uncommon,” interlocking it with “We Want the Umph” teases. As if this wasn’t strange enough for a song normally 4 minutes long, Jake added some freestyle rhymes over Cummins moog. Bayliss then started a “Fuck Yea!” chant, using a sign to conduct the crowd. Still not through with their shenanigans, Umphrey’s jumped right in to “Higgins” to put an end to this madness. I had to ask several people, “Did you just see that?” just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. The small crowd lingered around to grab a promo disc, discuss the show and chat with the band before heading outside. I think it is safe to say that we were all satisfied with the tour at this point and the rest would just be gravy. So, in celebration, our entire crew would stay in Paris for another day and a half, making the most of its historic sites and the nightlife, before heading to Amsterdam.
“Jam in the Dam 2006”
The Old Hall’
March 19th 2006
The train ride from Paris to Amsterdam marked the halfway point in my trip. It was an expensive, but scenic route that showcased small towns and windmills. Arriving in Amsterdam, I found that society moved much like those fabled windmills. Instantly, I took notice to the overwhelming amount of bicyclists and pedestrians. The streets were laid out with a sidewalk for pedestrians, one for the cyclists and a street where the cars had to bargain with the trains for right of way. The buildings were mostly brick and usually tall and narrow, leaving little or no room in between them. By simply wandering around the city for that first day I developed a decent mental-map, or at least I thought so. After taking in much of the cities scenery, I was starting to get anxious for a little music.
I arrived at The Melkweg to find even more familiar faces waiting in the “Old Hall”. Alki, Kristen, Jesse, Kat, Charlie Brown, Rhonda, Willie Nelson and Barney Rubble all joined the party, adding to the circus atmosphere. Umphrey’s McGee was greeted with a cheer that reached from the front row to the far corners of the balcony. “2×2” would open the show to much of the crowd’s delight. This all encompassing song set a great tone for the set that was to follow. “Got Your Milk (Right Here)” gave us a chance to pump our fists before “Utopian Fir” broke the set. I have heard some complaints roaming around about how this song has been lacking its usual luster. This version should lay those nasty rumors to rest. Midway through, a “Jimmy Stewart” emerged, prompting some serious weirdness. The “Stew” was full of interplay between Jake and Brendan. Jake was picking a nice riff while Brendan studied it for a minute, and then laid down a nice counter punctual harmony. Before anybody even realized what was unfolding, the band was locked in a reggae groove over which Cinninger sang a few lines of “Rainbow Country.” This led back into “Utopian Fir” where the antics continued. Joe Russo made a guest appearance, but on guitar, rather than drums. Russo did some quick tapping over the shoulders of Bayliss, while counterpart, Marco Benevento, played keys alongside Cummins. “The Crooked One” developed out of this obscure jam, bringing a bit of structure back to the evening. Just when I thought it was safe to breathe again, “Great American” took the wind out of me. This song, built from a previous “Jimmy Stewart,” has grown in leaps and bounds, as with two additional extended jams, the song has become a vehicle for exploration. Andy Farag added in some great conga work this evening, creating the groove that the rest of the band would follow. The UM staple, “All In Time” seemingly turned the Old Hall into a giant karaoke bar. “AIT” gave its usual energy, but tonight, it strayed from the ordinary. Towards the end of the song, it seemed that Bayliss had some technical problems with his foot pedals. This gave Ryan Stasik a chance to break things down with a few sub-sonic bass lines, until the problem was fixed. However, instead of jumping right back in, Bayliss let the bass section ride as he joined Farag on percussion. So, after the extended jam, the band resumed for the grand finale. I was pretty sure that this would be the set closer, given its epic nature. Instead, Joe Russo came back out to play some more guitar licks. He gave a little “Panama” tease and then engaged Jake in a tapping duel, which Cinninger won on account of his “Eruption”-like rant. After this, Russo lent Bayliss his jacket and scarf, apparently given BB the extra flair he needed as “Morning Song” would close the set in dramatic fashion. While this song is still fresh, it has grown in leaps and bounds. Anybody who thinks Umphrey’s lacks soul needs to hear this song. It reeks of emotion and jerks at your heart. I wasn’t convinced of this song’s potential, until I heard this particular rendition.
As if UM would let the night end on such a touching, yet somber note. yea right! The band had to have the last laugh, teasing “Message in a Bottle,” “10th Grade” and “Bridgeless” before finally settling on “Bridgeless.” This way a great start to a 3-night stand and I knew it could only get better.
March 20th 2006
My second day in Amsterdam was very fulfilling. I got some much-needed sleep, had breakfast at Barney’s and then and some time to relax to some Pink Floyd. In the course of my adventures, I managed to feel embarrassed of my American heritage. Throwing slang around only got me confused looks, rather than courteous smiles. So, as an advance warning to all: Even if Amsterdam is an English speaking country, slow down and annunciate your words, it will be appreciated. This being said, I was all too anxious to let myself go inside the friendly confines of the Melkweg.
The second night of this festival had a lot to live up to after experiencing night one. Yet without even breaking a sweat, Umphrey’s McGee began their assault on The Max with an opening “Atmosfarag”. Written by percussionist Andy Farag, “Atmos” created an ambiance that make me feel weightless. This easy going tune, gave way to a grinding ending before splitting into “Der Bluten Kat.” This is an amazing composition that went in and out of several improvisational sections before revisiting the main theme again, and again. Umphrey’s McGee never ceases to amaze me with the amount of patience they show on stage. Members are allowed to talk and express their musical opinion without being interrupted. Some fans say that they take too long to get to the point and then abort that point all too soon. I could agree on some level, but tonight, they showed poise beyond their years. The “ADD tendencies” were replaced with composure and grace. “Liquid” would make it second appearance in Europe. This tune sounds like it was ripped out of The Beatles catalog, given a face-lift, then given an IV full of adrenaline. Every time I hear the ending to this song, I expect the band to segue into “A Day in the Life.” Maybe one day, but instead I had to settle for a “Wife Soup” segue. It was at this time that I could look back and appreciate the lighting direction of Adam Budney. The violet and turquoise lights pierced through the smoky stage creating an interesting warp tunnel effect. Things picked up from here as “Eat” followed, satisfying the prog-heads, and wishing a happy birthday to Alki, before “Nothing Too Fancy” sent me through the stratosphere. I can’t even begin to describe what transpired. All I can really say is that if this were written out on sheet music, it would be scary! The amount of vibrato placed on each note, the improvised middle section, and the crescendo of Myers and Farag’s cymbals before returning to the main theme; it was marvelous. Not to mention the fact that the groove is infectious enough to cause people to dance, free of self-consciousness. After this release, the band gave us all a chance to recover with “Thin Air.” The main criticism of UM over the past half-year has been their song placement. Some set lists seem to be thrown together with songs that are in a rotation, but tonight was different. The band built up the energy, let it flow, gave us a chance to regain strength and then knocked us out cold with “In The Kitchen.” I must say that I have enjoyed watching the development of this song over the years. Starting out as a “Jazz Odyssey,” “Jimmy Stewart” and even a jam, this song has been reshaped and molded into a fine composition. It is ever changing, whether it is the intro, a middle section or retuning the ending.
It seemed that the emphasis was on energy and exploration tonight. This long set left me aching for more and aching in general. This was an awkward position considering The Disco Biscuits and Sound Tribe Sector Nine had two monstrous sets to yet to play, and monstrous they were.
March 21st 2006
By the time the third night of the “Jam in the Dam” festival had arrived, I was feeling surprisingly refreshed. I had caught a third wind, or was it my sixth wind? Either way, I wanted more music. The rest of my crew would be heading to Hamburg, Germany for the European tour finale. I, on the other hand, had run out of money and run out of time. My flight was taking me home in less than twelve hours and I still wanted more. So, entering the Melkweg this night, I had a somber attitude.
The show opened, appropriately enough, with “Hangover.” Although this was a Tuesday night, rather than a Saturday, the song was welcomed by all. I really thought I had that aforementioned sixth wind, but when I tried to dance along, my legs weren’t having it. Needless to say, I wasn’t alone with this dilemma. It seemed that the crowd was worn out and ready for a nap. Of course, that was before Umphrey’s jumped into “40’s Theme.” Jake Cinninger continued the partying spirit speaking about searing animal flesh and malt liquor, before dispelling the tune midpoint for “Dump City.” This gave me that first, “Did you see that?” moment of the night. After paying homage to Gary, IN the band came back to finish off their “40’s.” Cinninger soared through his solo and heavy crash cymbals from Myers and Farag punctuated the ending run. Not to shabby for a band that has been on the run through Europe for the better part of 10 days. Seemingly, experiencing the same fatigue as I, “Passing” crept in and gave me a chance to hydrate myself while taking in its deep rooted lyrics. “Professor Wormbog” followed suite with a nice jazz feel that calmed my nerves a bit. Just when I thought this would turn into a soul-soothing nightcap, things turned for the worst, for me at least. The Fugazi fixture “Waiting Room” came forth to rock the crowd like the punks we are. One of the few covers that Umphrey’s played in Europe; this was a rare appearance that was placed nicely as a transition between the jazzier segment of the show and the rock side. I say this because “JaJunk” came on the heels of this punk rocker and turned it up a notch. “JaJunk” followed in the manner of the past weeks “Hurt Bird Bath” and “Der Bluten Kat” by breaking the songs multiple sections up by lacing it with improvisation. The end result was a 20-minute composition reminiscent of an 18th century chamber piece on steroids. From here, the show would only pack more energy, and thus wearing me thin. Making an increasingly rare appearance, “Divisions” was played at the request of stage manager, Robbie Williams. Again, breaking the songs many parts down, the band controlled the pace of the show very well. They even threw in a “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” tease, before bringing the birthday boy out for a toast. “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” busted out of the ending to “Divisions,” bringing the energy back to a peak. When a band can toss segues around like Umphrey’s McGee, the audience is often left to wonder what will happen next. To prove my point, the manic “Tinkle’s” ending would drop right into the reggae tinged “Higgins” intro. “Higgins” showed no signs of slowing down; building the tension around soaring dual guitar leads and thought provoking lyrics. It is a testament to the new album’s prowess as well, being that “Higgins” was cut from the finished product. I think it is safe to assume that it was not for quality reasons.
By the time Umphrey’s came back out for the encore, my eyes were glazed over and thoughts of the journey home were sinking into my skull. Maybe I look into songs too much, but I interpreted the “Pay The Snucka” encore has an homage to the poor exchange rate that drained my cash flow, rather than some high stakes poker shark. It was hard to contain myself during the thrash metal ending, but I had just run out of gas. I was very pleased with my trip, but still down about having to skip Germany. But while my adventures had ceased, Umphrey’s continued their journey.