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Published: 2015/12/21
by Heather Farr

Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger Acoustic Holiday Show, Park West, Chicago, IL- 12/12

The holidays came early for the portion of the loyal Chicago Umphrey’s crew lucky enough to get tickets to the sold-out-in-five-minutes Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger Acoustic Holiday Show. In its 13th year, the intimate Park West performance brought together a mix of faded Umphrey’s t-shirts and questionable holiday sweaters for a night of classics, covers and twisted seasonal tunes.

After an introduction from crew leader Barry Brown, UM piano man Joel Cummins opened the show with a joke that sounded familiar to fans who attended last year’s festivities. “If you guys can just be really quiet, there will be plenty of time to talk during Brendan and Jake’s set,” he laughed. Flexing his classical muscles, Cummins silenced the lively crowd with everything from French Composer Claude Debussy to Beethoven. Another nod to last year’s set, Cummins invited Cinninger out for a light-hearted version of “Linus & Lucy.” At the beginning of his set, Cummins mentioned that his mom told him to “bring the hits.” And bring the hits he did.

“Thanks for being patient with Joel, and sorry he opened up with the same joke as last year,” Cinninger said, as he and Bayliss took a seat on the cozy, center stage loveseat surrounded by a grand, colorful Christmas tree, a blue menorah and a plethora of instruments. Despite that morning’s “fifteen minute debate about starting with ‘In the Kitchen’ like we do every year,” Bayliss and Cinninger opened with Umphrey’s “Similar Skin.” The pair played through warmly-welcomed “Gulf Stream” and “Cut the Cable” before being joined on stage by bandmates Cummins and Andy Farag as well as Mike Racky – a frequent holiday show guest – on the pedal steel.

With a full stage and a glass of red wine in hand, Bayliss dedicated the next song, 30DB’s “Susanah,” to his wife. The duo’s special guests wandered on and off the stage throughout the night, making appearances for a slew of covers, starting with a trio of Led Zeppelin tunes: “Dancing Days,” “Bron-Yr-Aur” and “Down By the Seaside.” The group looked relatively comfortable working through the series of new songs, considering their rehearsal at Bayliss’ suburban home got cut short by a neighbor’s text calling the guitarist’s charity show rehearsal “inconsiderate and self-centered.” The group salvaged the rehearsal, however, on the top floor of Bayliss’ home – though Cummins had to play while walking on a treadmill.

In typical Holiday Show fashion, the group – joined by Wade Wilby – treated fans to a festive take on Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” as well as a “Carol of the Bells” Bayliss and Cinninger duet. Bayliss took a seat behind the piano for his own “Push and Pull” before providing keys and vocals on Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” with Cinninger on drums. The full group – with a little help from the crowd – barreled through “Two Dips” before a marathon set close that included Umphrey’s originals “Comma Later” and “Weight Around” as well as Squeeze’s “Tempted,” ELO’s “Showdown” and Ween’s “Baby Bitch” – a nod to the UM and Gene Ween Summer Camp 2015 collaboration.

Returning to the stage, Bayliss, Cinninger, Farag, Cummins and Racky teased the New Year’s classic “Auld Lang Syne” before playing through Pat Metheny’s “Last Train Home” and Umphrey’s “Upward.” Just when it seemed like the crowd’s energy was at its peak, the group whipped out a funky, foot-stomping rendition of the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water” before leading fans in a drunken “Happy Birthday” to Cinninger. With special guests, energetic covers and just a touch of mischief, the 13th Annual Acoustic Holiday Show seemed to cross everything off fans’ wish lists.

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