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Published: 2007/05/22
by Patrick Knibbs

Green Apple Music Festival Weekend, Chicago, IL- 4/210-21

Chicago’s recent inclusion to the Green Apple Music and Arts Festival featured numerous performances by a handful of musicians/bands throughout the city over the Earthday weekend. The fest, not only provided several impressive sets of music, but also helped create attention towards a worthy cause-the environment!

Spearheading the Chicago efforts were hometown rockers Umphrey’s McGee, and their new best friends Philadelphia natives The Disco Biscuits.

First on the agenda, Saturday night (April 21st)

Umphrey’s McGee’s return to The Vic Theater (their old stomping ground) for a sold-out throw down

Umphrey’s McGee hasn’t played at The Vic for years because their hometown popularity has far out grown the small venue. But as the house lights dimmed and the first notes of “JaJunk” slammed through the venue, it was evident how much progress this band has made over the past six years. Their prowess on stage and connection they’ve established with their fans (many of whom are devoted to the point of obsession) is rather daunting. It is puzzling, however, that a band whose focus is centered on complex chord structures, progressive/fusion laden compositions, and heavy metal influences has become this popular. “JaJunk” was solid, and its powerful segue into “Divisions” created a rhythmic explosion. Led by powerhouse drummer Kris Myers and steady percussionist Andy Farag, the two pounded through the song and unleashed a barrage of lively Latin inspired soloing. Myers’ double bass drumming was pulsing and intense, and Farag added perfect fills on his numerous percussive instruments.

Dabbling more and more into the electronic music landscape recently, the version of “Nothing Too Fancy” sounded fresh and different. Meyer’s electronic drum fills, and overall trance undertone gave this older gem new life. It also provided both guitarists, Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss, room to unleash some nasty soloing. Cinninger especially shined here, his tone was immaculate and his licks were quick and virtuosic. Overall, they attacked their first set with passion and a fierceness I hadn’t seen (from them) in a long time, and it served as a reminder of the UM of old.

After a shorter than usual set break, the band emerged and opened with another UM classic, “Pay the Snucka.” Similar to the “Nothing too Fancy,” or “Divisions,” this song, along with the band, has evolved dramatically throughout the years. It used to be a quirky humorous song that gave the audience an insider’s glimpse of the band, but now the song serves as a reminder, of sorts, to the steps they’ve taken as a group. Following “Snucka” the rowdiness ensued, “Der Bluten Kat” exploded and led to a ferocious jam that eventually led to fist-pumping, horn-throwing rouse of Motley Crew’s “Dr. Feelgood.” This is a perfect cover song for UM, both Cinninger and Bayliss were shredding through this hair-metal classic, and Meyer’s double bass kicking was very Tommy Lee-like complete with several stick twirls!

Taking a deep breath towards the conclusion of the “Der Bluten” jam, the familiar sounds of “The Triple Wide” could be heard from Farag’s Groovebox. As the funky House beat got rolling, keyboardist Joel Cummings and Cinninger snuck off stage to make way for two special guests: Aron Magner from the Disco Biscuits, and Michael Kang from SCI. Magner, who along with his bandmates had been in town all weekend, was seen walking through the venue earlier, so it wasn’t really a surprise that he was there, but the addition of Kang was. Both ripped impressive solos, and gelled nicely with UM.

The enormous extended jam that erupted from “The Triple Wide” merged full-throttle back into “Nothing Too Fancy.” Biscuits drummer, Allen Aucoin, joined Farag on percussion as Cummings and Cinninger returned to the stage. Now running on auto-pilot, the band jumped back into “Divisions” before closing the set with a reprise of “Pay the Snucka.” This set was a monster! The jams were tight, energetic, and remarkably fresh considering that the majority of the material was several years old.

Ear-piercing screams from sweaty smiling kids engulfed the theater prior to their double encore. Sticking to their frat boy attitude, Bayliss pounded a three story beer bong (with the help of two roadies) rather smoothly, before diving into Wings’ “Band on the Run” and the conclusion of “JaJunk.”

Sunday: Lincoln Park Zoo

With temps in the upper 80’s and beaming sunshine, thousands of music lovers, families, and tourists flocked to the Lincoln Park Zoo on the closing day of the Green Apple Music Festival. The co-headlining bill of The Disco Biscuits and Umphrey’s McGee also had a little something to do with it.

Being introduced as “eco-friendly and environmentally sound” the Biscuits came out on fire. Their electronica/trance blend of funk can, at times, be rather monotonous but this set was tight focused and consistent. The interplay between bassist Marc Brownstein and guitarist Jon Gutwillig was distinguished, and the pulsing rhythms by drummer Aucoin kept the music rolling. Their non-stop set was corner-stoned by a pair of energetic covers: a thumping stark version of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” and an extended romp of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Maybe it was the excessive amount of solar energy being thrust upon the band that kept the jams fresh, but this was by far the best I’ve seen them in several years.

Just before Umphrey’s McGee took the stage, UM manager and producer of the Chicago Green Apple events, Vince Iwinski had to remind the swelling crowd (several times) to respect the surroundings (due to the excessive crowd spilling into restricted areas). UM strolled on stage to a sounding roar and began a extended single set, which was tight, and similar to the previous night, dipped into their vast music catalog. Set highlight was the “Uncle Wally” > “Jazz Odyssey” > “Slacker” run. All three songs were intense and energetic, and gave their mid-day set some extra umph.

This Earth Day celebration served as both a coming out party for green initiatives, as well as for Umphrey’s McGee. The hold that this group has established, on Chicago, over the past several years has vaulted them to an unprecedented status, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the heyday of The Smashing Pumpkins.

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