Umphrey’s McGee threw a celebration for their triumphant return to the Riviera Theater from February 20th to the 22nd. It had been a long wait since their last three night run of shows in Chicago and the build up was almost unbearable. Needless to say, the creative energy was flowing all weekend and these concerts showcased some of Umphrey’s best work to date.
Buckets of rain flooded the city streets and sidewalks before the show on Thursday. Luckily, meteorologist Tom Skilling warning me of adverse weather conditions on Chicago’s WGN Midday News. I just so happened to tune in because Umphrey’s McGee was the show’s musical guest of the day. The band performed “No Diablo,” “Puppet String,” and “The Linear” throughout the hour long news program and the 30 second clips of my favorite band were just enough to send me over the edge with excitement.
Umphrey’s kicked off the first night of the run with an intro called “October Rain” playing over the loud speaker as the band walked onto the Riviera’s stage. They then took to their instruments and began to play along with the track. Umphrey’s immediately harnessed the room’s energy and once they found themselves in a free flowing groove, the band quickly segued into the frat party anthem: “40′s Theme.” Guitarist Jake Cinninger kept the song in Old Dirty Bastard territory, without letting it get too heavy.
After a contained version of “The Linear,” the song “White Man’s Moccasins’” hectically tripped into a maze of focused energy led by keyboardist Joel Cummins. There was a special feeling to the show that night. It almost seemed like everyone in the room was attending some sort of family reunion. Not to mention that the Riviera Theater is like the “Ghost of Concerts Past.” Its elegant chandeliers and pealing ceiling paint make you wonder what it looked like during its hay day. The balcony has perfect lines of site and a clear sound can be heard from almost every seat, even without headphones. The old theater chairs are so warn you can practically feel the springs stretch as they struggle to support you. I’ve seen dozens of shows at this particular venue but Umphrey’s NYE show from 2010 takes the cake. Needless to say, this time around felt just a special.
“Much Obliged” continued the show until it eventually hit an uplifting jam that provoked a lyrical Jimmy Stewart from Brendan Bayliss. This freestyle segment set the room ablaze with its indiscernible words just before it slammed into “Kimble.” The awkward change of pace was followed by “Morning Song” which seems to strike a nerve every time I hear it live, and always for a different reason. This time it was slow and controlled. See for yourself thanks to Tourgigs:
The first set ended with a grand version of “The Floor” that opened up into a progressive build that left me immediately impatient for more music.
After a longer than average set break, Umphrey’s chugged their way back on stage like a slow moving train. They started off the set with an appropriate “Slacker” that coincided perfectly with their tardiness. A hectic jam was complemented by sweeping laser beams of light that originated from the back of the stage and penetrated those of us in the audience. The show continued with a “Higgins” that restrained the band’s energy before it was finally allowed to gain momentum.
A big “Oh no!” came from the crowd as they witnessed the stage crew set up a microphone in front of bassist Ryan Stasik. Everyone knew this was when things would get weird. “Sad Gorillaz” is an Umphrey’s mashup of Metallica’s ”Sad But True” and Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood”. This particular version showcased an entertaining lyrical Jimmy Stewart sung by Stasik and its contents covered everything from xanax to Care Bears. He ended the sonnet with, “What the fuck… is happening?”
In contrast, Stasik later provided a moving bass solo to push forward the first few frames of “August.” As the rest of the band started to chime in, I couldn’t help notice the hush that had fallen over the crowd. Ryan Stasik is the male version of a diva and the whole room seemed completely captivated by him. I’m fairly certain he wore at least six different outfits over the course of three shows that weekend, which must be a record for any bassist.
By the time ”August” reached the raging jam, “Snake Juice,” I couldn’t help notice the whole room was thrashing. Umphrey’s then went back into ”August” to help bookend the segment.
The second set of Thursday night eventually ended with “Hurt Bird Bath.” This song always feels like an intense journey to a magical place. Waful held the tension of the room until his lights ignited into an explosion of color like never before. This combination of adventurous sounds and stimulating visuals provided a limitless moment of bliss only felt by being in the right place at the right time. It’s no wonder this song always invokes Umphrey’s fans to ”Woo…”
The show’s encore came just after midnight with a complete version of ”Pay the Snucka” that featured an insane guitar solo from Jake Cinninger. I use the word “insane” very literally here because a close friend of mine started to lose his shit at this point in the show. It was as if Jake channeled some sort of heavy metal death god and was sealing the fate of our souls with rapid fire guitar notes. And so, the first night of Umphrey’s in Chicago came to a close.
Encore: Pay the Snucka
 with The Fuzz jam and “Jimmy Stewart” with lyrics
 with White Summer (Led Zeppelin) jam
By the second night, wind gusts had torn all the letters off the Riviera’s marquee. A longer than average line wrapped around the venue for this sold out show because many fans, like myself, just couldn’t wait for the next round of Umphrey’s McGee.
The show kicked off with the slow growing intro called ”A Mild Sedative” and eventually exploded into the first notes off the album Anchor Drops. This version of “Plunger” contained a frantic jam to start the Friday show off right. It peaked with an abrupt stop-and-go section that slowly evolved into group improv unlike anything Umphrey’s has ever played before. Up next was “Passing.” Though it was a short and sweet, it stabilized the room’s energy before Umphrey’s launched into “The Crooked One.” There was a tension that was present when the song first started but ten minutes later, it turned into a glorious progressive jam that was bathed in Jefferson Waful’s lights.
The song “Comma Later” was played so impressively that night, many of those who once hated the tune are now sold on its potential. It’s jam was thick with disco grooves and peaked over, and over again. This was the type of moment die hard Umphrey’s fans live for and it was a total game changer for this particular Umphrey’s song.
Friday’s first set ended with a 20 minute ”Preamble> Mantis Ghetts>Mantis” and closed on a Cinninger peak. It was so intense, Jake had to turn his back to the audience while he became frozen in the moment. It was obvious the guitarist was in prime form that night. He aligned the whole room on his frequency, practically demanded we get on his level or be left in the dust.
I guess you could say that the first set of Friday night was looser than a ’lot girl’ at the end of Phish’s summer tour. In fact, the first hour of music was so robust, a set break was welcomed this time around.
“All In Time” kicked off the second set. This classic Umph song contained a jam led by percussionist Andy Farag that subtly turtled to its peak until Jake unleashed like a viper, shredding it to pieces.
“The Triple Wide” began as a dedication to the band’s friends and family that were there in the audience that night. Then, in the middle of the song, half of the band ventured up into the balcony to rage right next to their loved ones. It was something Umphrey’s has recently started to experiment with since they’ve started playing with wireless technology. Needless to say, the crowd was wildly entertained by the theatrics and even chanted, “USA…USA…” in approval.
“Hajimemashite” started out pretty standard but once the first verse was complete, Umphrey’s immediately transitioned into the song ”Glory.” The rest of the tune bounced back between the two songs as if they were always meant to be played together. It was a moment of pure grace like I’ve never experienced before. Check out the video shot by Tourgigs:
After the mesmerizing “Haji/Glory” combo, Bayliss took a moment to thank the crew and introduce his fellow band members. A song played as each member was introduced and the band even completed a whole verse of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” after Kris Myer’s introduction. The group then went into the jazzy old school favorite “Prowler” that almost immediately transitioned into a 10 minute “Intentions Clear.”
All of the night’s cover songs came at the end of the show and I have to admit, I was kind of embarrassed I knew every word of Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days.” Most folks around me seemed lost but I still sang each verse as loud as I could. The set ended with “Hangover” and included a tease of ZZ Top’s “La Grange” and a full verse from Hendrix’s ”Voodoo Child.”
Jake Cinninger dedicated the encore to South Bend then delivered the first verse of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” For the final song of the night, Umphrey’s McGee played a heavy version of “1348″ that left everyone in the room satisfied. The show, overall, contained everything that is wonderful about this band. Every jam was executed perfectly and you could really tell the whole band was actively listening to each other that evening. Friday’s show was definitely the highlight of the weekend.
Set 2: All In Time, The Triple Wide, Hajimemashite > Glory > Hajimemashite > Glory, Prowler > Intentions Clear -> Dance Hall Days, Hangover > Voodoo Child > HangoverEncore: Comfortably Numb > 1348
 with Hajimemashite teases
 with La Grange (ZZ Top) jam
Saturday felt like I was seeing a completely different band. After the debut of Umphrey’s newest intro, “Bathing Digits,” a massive “Phil’s Farm” circled in and out of a back woods jam that wouldn’t let you forget its twangy roots. The rest of the set was nothing to tell mom about. The beginning of “Miami Virtue” almost fooled me into thinking it was “Nothing Too Fancy”, which was kind of a let down. I was waiting for that epic, jaw on the floor moment but, for some reason, this set never hit it. ”2nd Self,” ”Thin Air,” and “Red Tape” weren’t as tight as they could have been and it felt uncomfortable.
“Bad Friday” was probably one of the most anticipated songs of the weekend, but it just didn’t hit the level awesomeness it did when it first debuted this past New Years Eve. Check out the Tourgigs footage:
Overall, this part of the run lacked the free flow of energy that existed on Thursday and Friday. The second half of the first set featured Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger on acoustic guitars. For a band with such high energy live shows, this type of breakdown is usually saved for special occasions. I have to admit, I actually started to cry during Bayliss’s touching delivery of “The Weight Around.” To top it off, the band was joined by a spunky singer named Daphne Willis for backup vocals on another acoustic rarity: ”Bullhead City.” Overall, Umphrey’s acoustic treatment was very personal and salvaged what was left of the set, which finally came to an end with a short cover of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.”
Whatever took place during the first half of the Saturday show was most definitely overshadowed by the five song second set that power houred through to the end of the Chicago run. The jam of the night, maybe even the whole run, was a 27 minute DBK that invaded the galaxy. ”Just What I Needed” was a quaint cover before “Divisions” dove deep into a sea of slow paced progression. It was followed by a strange version of “Believe the Lie” that started out sounding like a Zappa cover. I’m pretty sure this trickery was part of the show because shit just kept getting more and more weird.
Overall, the theatrics that weekend pushed the boundaries of Umphrey’s stage show. Wireless guitars allowed members to utilize their stage space like never before. Mix in Waful’s strobe lights and you could barely see Stasik and Cinninger wandering around the back of the stage and messing with the other band members. The second set came to a close with an overly controlled “Puppet String” that was stripped down until right before the song’s raving peak.
For the final encore, drummer Kris Myers sat behind his kit only to admit he didn’t know how to play the next song on the setlist. Conveniently enough, Myers found the Smashing Pumpkins’ drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin, on the side of the stage. Chamberlin then took over Kris’s drums so Umphrey’s could cover the Pumpkins’ classic, ”Cherub Rock.” The audience was overjoyed to share in this authentic home town experience.
 debut, original
 with Brendan and Jake on acoustics
 with Brendan and Jake on acoustics, and with Daphne Willis on vocals
 debut, The Cars
 with Jimmy Chamberlain on drums and Kris on percussion
So the highly anticipated Chicago run finally came to an end. Overall the weekend was extremely relaxed and controlled. Friday definitely stands out as the most successful night of the run and I would highly recommend you give it a listen.
Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger of Umphrey’s McGee will be showcasing some of their favorite holiday songs, along with some rare covers, and a handful of Umphrey’s originals on December 7th when they host their Annual Acoustic Holiday Show at the Park West in Chicago. This benefit will raise funds for The People’s Music School, the only music school in Chicago to offer free quality music education to children up until they graduate high school.
This exclusive event usually contains a handful of rarities and covers along with special guest sit-ins to help add to the magic of the night. Brendan and Jake have even welcomed the children’s choir on stage in the past to help boost the holiday atmosphere. “My favorite memory is doing “Happy Xmas” with a children’s choir.” Brendan Bayliss shared with me, ”I’ve wanted to play that song since I was old enough to remember it.”
And ultimately, this show is for the kids. The money raised at this year’s holiday show will be used to enroll kids in the People’s Music School. ”Our goal is to raise as much as we can in order to put as many kids in the school as possible,” explained event coordinator, Barry Brown. “The demand for enrollment always exceeds the funding available. So the more we raise and donate, the more kids there are that can get into the school.” In the past, Umphrey’s has helped raise enough funds to put at least 20 kids though the school’s music education program from the time they enroll until they graduate high school.
This will be the 11th year this annual charity event will taken place. Doors of the Park West will open early so attendees can participate in UM Holiday Garage Sale, where exclusive Umphrey’s merchandise will be available at steep discounts with part of the proceeds going to The People’s Music School. There will also be a raffle with prizes that include everything from restaurant gift cards to Summer Camp Music Festival tickets!
Tickets are currently on sale for the Annual Acoustic Holiday Show here and this event is guaranteed to sell out. They are currently accepting donations and raffle prizes so if you would like to contribute a prize or gift certificates, please email Barry Brown at UMcharityshow@gmail.com.
After all, it’s for the kids!
There is nothing like the budding beauty of Chicago in the Spring and no more amazing of a place than Wrigleyville, home to the Chicago Cubs. Just round the corner from the home plate entrance to the renowned Wrigley Field is the go-to joint for Cubby fans year-round, aptly named the Cubby Bear. What better way to kick off the 2013 Scamp season with a lil’ pre-fest shindig than with a pre-jam with two members from one of Summer Camp’s headlining jam legends.
Ohhhh mama, that’s right! Jake Cinniger and Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey’s McGee are planning on tearing down the Cubsters house May 9th to make sure you Scampers have your game face on for 2013! And they won’t be alone in laying down the shiz and amping the Chi-town scene for what’s to come. They’ll have a little help from one of Chicago’s own, Zmick, a four piece prog rock band whose sound is dubbed ‘dungeon funk’! If you haven’t allowed your ears the hypnotic pleasure of taking in the multi-layered bass-laden grooves of these boys, then do yourself a favor– DO IT NOW!! (If you love UM, you’ll dig Zmick and I say this as a hardcore prog. rock bass head)
Just a little jammage to get us all toasty before the big party! Rock Balls!
For some turning forty is a day for celebration and remembrance, Dave marked his fortieth trip around the sun by lighting the fuse to a powder keg and blasting down the hill in style. Dave arranged for both Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger from Umphrey’s McGee to play a special two-set acoustic show in his living room. With both The Magic Beans and The Drunken Hearts supporting the entire event promised to be one not easily forgotten. I headed up with a few friends from Denver and arrived at Dave’s north of Denver around 7 PM. There was already a decent crowd assembled mingling amongst the massive potluck spread complete with a keg of Ranger. It was obvious that this was going to be a stellar night and it was just starting.
We kicked off our shoes into the massive pile by the door and got to it. So many sock-footed friends and familiar faces dotted the room, as the birthday boy chatted with his guests. Bayliss and Jake were sitting on the couch watching their alma mater Notre Dame square off against USC to complete an unbeaten season. The house was perfectly set up for what was about to occur. The UM Duo would perform in the living room and downstairs there was a literally a stage on the carpeting complete with lights and a soundboard. The basement was basically a large L with plenty of room for everyone.
The Drunken Hearts got started a little after 8 PM and quickly warmed up the crowd. There was a party atmosphere so people seemed to float in and out the basement. They played a sweet variety of Americana cut with a bit of rock and roll. Hailing from Vail, Colorado and labeling themselves Alternative Grass Rock, The Drunken Hearts are a new force on the scene. Andrew McConathy’s deep and colorful voice resonated off the basement walls. His tone has a unique quality to it that makes it very versatile and well suited to the genres of music that they play. Early in their set there was a short power outage when the band blew the breaker. The Drunken Hearts very professionally continued to play in the dark. Towards the end of the song the room was again filled with the iridescent green light from the towers. They played a tight version of the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and I was told that Bayliss sat in on kit for a song. Honestly they were a lot of fun and a very smooth way to ease into the night. They recently released Live for Today, which was produced by Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone, and features sit-ins from both Tim and Scott Law.
Everyone filed upstairs and quietly took their place throughout the kitchen and living room. The stage was simple, two chairs, a couple lights, a small plaque commemorating the life of Sarah Elizabeth Gewald, Brendan, and Jake. Notre Dame had won and it was time to get down. Dave politely told everyone to be respectful and the show was on. They opened up with a fully developed “40’s Theme.”
Set 1: 40′s Theme, In the Kitchen> White Pickle> Den, Rocker Pt 1, Great American> Over the Hills and Far Away> Great American>The Girl is Mine> Jane Says> Great American, Hajimemashite> Glory> Hajimemashite, Dear Prudence, FF> Gulf Stream, Can’t Find My Way Home, 2 dips, 1 bump, and a Fuckload of Pills
Set 2: Divisions> No Comment> Soul Food I^> In the Kitchen, Comfortably Numb, August> That’s The Way> August, Bridgeless@, Jake Solo$, Morning Song, Thunderstruck, The Weight Around, Black Water*, Front Porch> Resolution> Goodbye Blue Sky> Divisions
Encore: Porch**, Night Moves^Horse with no Name (America) and Run To You (Bryan Adams) verses @ W/ Don’t Stop Believing fake out $ Dedicated to “all of our fallen friends.” * W/Clayton Halsey on vocals ** Pearl Jam, 1st time played. The audio stream is online to listen to http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/27255821.
The setlist was just stupid good and the acoustic playing along with the myriad of covers set the premise for the night. The crowd would sporadically chime in to sing along with the band. Brendan and Jake are solid players; their acoustic performances really allow the listener to focus on their ability to just pick. The incredible dynamic between Jake and Brendan was as substantial in front of the select gathering in Dave’s Living Room as it is in front of thousands of screaming fans at Red Rocks. They performed “In The Kitchen” to people who were literally in the kitchen. The entire two set show was playful in this way, with gentle ribbing give to Dave by the band between songs. The jam on “White Pickle” was engaging before they segued into a rare “Rocker Pt. 1”, which has only been played once by Umphrey’s in 2009 since it’s debut in 2006. They used their instrumental “Great American” as the double bookend Jam one of the most compelling runs of the night. ”Great American”> ”Over the Hills and Far Away”> ”Great American”> ”The Girl is Mine”> ”Jane Says”> ”Great American”, I mean really? Weaving out of their own musical landscapes into Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, and Jane’s Addiction in a single strand of a performance is downright mystifying and exceptionally entertaining. Going back to the Umphrey’s songbook they played a nice sandwich of “Hajimemashite”> ”Glory”> ”Hajimemashite” before they went into a beautiful cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”
Dear Prudence – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BszbMv_adQ&feature=youtu.be
A favorite moment of mine was the “FF” into “Gulf Stream.” This was just a good combo back to back and seemed to exemplify the feel of the first set; relaxed and celebratory.
FF into Gulf Stream – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa8PTMFqgRs
They again wowed the attentive audience with a rendition of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” before ending the set appropriately with “2 dips, 1 bump, and a Fuckload of Pills.” (I had to check that was really the title of the song and not setlist notes for someone.)
Friends mingled about and eagerly awaited the return of Brendan and Jake. If the first set was a straightforward shot with a few surprises, then the second set was a field of land mines being traversed on a unicycle. They came out strong with a huge “Divisions” to start the show. Dave’s friend brought a painting that was a live representation of this song to be signed, so it made sense that they would use it as the bread for the second set sandwich. “No Comment” was a bit abrupt, but the funky “Soul Food I” included “Horse with No Name” and “Run To You” verses. This was when things started getting weirder. From SF1 they launched back into “In The Kitchen” The first of two second set Pink Floyd covers came in the form of an excellently executed “Comfortably Numb.” They performed yet another back and forth with “August” into Led Zeppelin’s “That’s The Way” and back again. “Bridgeless” contained a massive Journey tease that made the whole crowd cheer. Jake played a stunning solo dedicated to, “all of our fallen friends.” Brendan and Jake played a dark “Morning Song,” which they followed up with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” They busted out a rare “The Weight Around” and the upped the ante with a version the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water.” The playful “Front Porch” is an old track seeing less of the rotation in recent years. “Resolution” disintegrated into an absolutely awesome version of Pink Floyd’s “Good By Blue Sky” before they wrapped it up with the aforementioned “Divisions.” Wow. This was just an unbelievable set of music.
Brendan and Jake encored with a first time ever played “Porch” by Pearl Jam as well as Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” This was such an enjoyable time and a great way to spend a Saturday Night. Magic Beans took the stage downstairs as music fans basked in the afterglow of that acoustic set. The Beans are a talented group who continue to impress audiences all across Colorado and beyond. They played as the people mingled and slowly dribbled away into the darkness. Eventually too my ride indicated that it was time to hit the old dusty trail and we left as the Beans were still shredding. I want to extend a big thanks to Dave for even attempting, let alone pulling off the most incredible birthday party I’ve ever attended. Happy Birthday my friend.