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.
Manic Focus is a producer that mixes original tracks laced with pure soul. This artist brings a melody to EDM that results in a sound that is not full frontal, but rather a gradual progression of synths, beats, and sassy samples. His soundscapes take you on a stimulating journey by intertwining genres; reinventing everything from hip hop to the Beatles along the way.
Originally from Minnesota, this producer has been developing his craft since middle school. Over the last three years, Manic Focus has established himself in Chicago’s underground music scene by fine tuning his live show and consistently refining his electronic sound. His intelligent style of producing and mixing has gained him respect within the world of electronic dance music. While he is currently touring with Big Gigantic, this summer Manic Focus plans on taking over the festival circuit, Summer Camp included.
We got a chance to ask Manic Focus about his summer plans and it looks like he might be just as excited to kick of festy season as we are!
What’s your favorite Summer Camp memory?
My favorite Summer Camp Music Festival memory was having Felix Moreno of Future Rock jump on the last track of my 1st ever Summer Camp set. It was definitely a very memorable experience.
Besides playing Summer Camp, what other plans do you have this summer?
My current summer plans are to attend and play as many music festivals as possible!
Will you be releasing any new music before then?
I’m always working on new music, and am planning to release an EP of brand new material at the end of March. I’m having a release party/ show on March 21st at the Concord with support from my homies Wick-it The Instigator, Muzzy, and Inverse Universe.
What is your favorite summer time food and drink?
I really like pulled pork sandwiches, fried chicken, corn dogs, hot dogs, walking-tacos……too many to list! My favorite summer beverage is cold beer. The colder the better.
Summer Camp is thrilled to have you back in 2014!
Can’t wait to play Summer Camp this year! I hope you enjoy the recap video from my set last year
And now… your closing line up… for each night of Summer Camp Music Festival 2014… drum roll please… LIVE BANDS IN THE RED BARN!!!!
Every year Summer Camp picks the best of the best for their Late Night Shows in the Red Barn, sometimes even mixing and matching heavy hitters from different bands to form a super-group of sorts. But not this year… no, this year Summer Camp HQ decided to give us more of what we love! With many of the best acts on their line up taking over the Red Barn each night, the hardest part will be deciding which late night is right for you.
My purpose is to provide counsel in moments like these, so the following paragraphs will give you all the background you need in order to make the decision as to which ticketed Late Night Shows are right for you. Choose wisely or miss out…
Friday Late Night Show
Friday’s Late Night Show in the Red Barn will feature a gypsy sideshow better known as Beats Antique. True to their gypsy style, this group’s sound doesn’t really have a genre to call home. They are ethnic, earthy, yet electronic and very dance oriented. They put on a show as if it were a theatrical performance with belly dancing, costumes, and a consistent flow of chaotic energy being delivered to their audience.
Also on Friday’s Late Night bill is Summer Camp and Late Night veterans LOTUS! The news of their triumphant return to the Red Barn has put a smile on my face, and the fact that they get this coveted late night spot is beyond righteous. This band’s sophisticated style has earned them respect by everyone in our scene. They bridge the gap between jam and electronic music. There is something graceful about the way Lotus plays, like they are building a peaceful connection between their instruments and our ears. I have to be honest here, I never know the names of Lotus songs when I hear them live. All I know is they do something to my soul where I can’t help but fall in love with every note. This band has a way of taking me to the other side of Jupiter. After seeing them over a dozen times, I can promise you this: Lotus always delivers. I am going to go ahead and say this late night will probably be one of the best sets of the weekend. In fact, I’d bet a late night ticket on it!
I am pretty sure Camp Counselor Kyle agrees with me on this – thanks to him for creating the video above!
Saturday Late Night Show
Saturday is guaranteed to be one of the most stacked single days of music in the history of Summer Camp, which means that a lot of energy will have to be conserved in order to rage proper all the way into the wee hours of the morning. The Red Barn will once again be flipped upside down for a late night show that starts off with Gramatik. This is the only DJ on the late night line up, and he probably could headline the barn all on his own but he is actually co-headlining this stage with the funk machine better known as Lettuce!
Lettuce is dirty… and I mean that in the nastiest way possible. Who could forget how we danced our asses off as rain soaked into our souls during their day set at the Moonshine stage at last year? The waves of funk washed over the crowd as if we were bobbing in a sea of funky goodness.
This set was so funking good Lettuce decided to return in order to lay down the beats that make funk prosper. Us fans are attracted to their anything goes style and distinct flavor in the world of funk. This band produces a synergy between its members where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Lettuce is a super group through and through. When Pretty Lights decided he wanted to tour with a live band this past fall, these were some the musicians he tapped to be on the roster. Their late night set is guaranteed to sweat out a day’s worth of rage. So, Lettuce turnip the beet that Saturday night, shall we?
If you still need some convincing, Camp Counselor Nick Stock’s advice just might seal the deal:
“If you are going to see Lettuce I suggest you bring a shovel to pick your jaw up off the floor. This musical powerhouse is producing some of the best live funk happening today. If you enjoy getting slapped hard by the dirty funk find yourself in the crowd for Lettuce at Summer Camp this year…. wait it’s late night? Bring two shovels.”
Sunday Late Night Show
On Sunday night, our fest headliners, Umphrey’s McGee, will be downsizing their Summer Camp stage production to give every Umphreak more of what they signed up for. If you haven’t read my blog posts before, you may not be aware just how much I love this band. This year’s Summer Camp will mark my ten year anniversary with Umprhey’s McGee. Their love for their fans is unlike any other band and we just can’t seem to get enough. We are addicts and rawk is our drug of choice. So why not give us just one more hit to seal the deal and blast us off into Umph ecstasy?
If you are not an Umphreak you should probably skip this show. Summer Campers will get to see Umphrey’s throw down some of their best material during their headlining slots on Friday and Saturday nights. That should be plenty for any newbie trying to get a feel for what this band is all about. But if you are just as obsessed as I am with this band, good luck scoring a late night, and may the odds be ever in your favor…
Check out a fan shot video from Umphrey’s Summer Camp late night set in 2010:
Be prepared when tickets for these Late Night Shows n the Red Barn go on sale (dates should be announced soon), because they will sell out in seconds! I know firsthand how much this sucks (and getting shut out can make you bitter), but when you finally DO get your hands on that coveted late night ticket, it is all the sweeter!
If you really want the ultimate Summer Camp experience, you could always lock down a late night by purchasing a VIP Upgrade to the fest. Those tickets go on sale on Friday at 10:00 AM Central.
And don’t forget, the Late Night Shows in the Red Barn are just a portion of what Summer Camp offers after the sun goes down! Stay tuned for our thoughts on what’s always an incredible Thursday night in the Red Barn, as well as the nightly Late Night Campfire Jams, the never-ending party over in the Late Night Vibe Tent, as well as the always entertaining Late Night at the Soulshine Tent! I know i’m eagerly anticipating announcements for each of these too…
So the second round of artists has officially dropped and you couldn’t be more excited for for Summer Camp 2014, right?!?! While it may be a bit early to start packing, I thought it would be a good idea to share some tips on how you can start preparing TODAY! With less than 100 days left until Summer Camp, here are a few small steps you can take now that will save you a ton of stress (and cash) in the long run…
1) Secure a ticket!
Your ticket to Summer Camp Music Festival is probably going to be the most expensive part of the whole weekend and putting off buying one could end up costing you in the end. Ticket prices will only go up from here so the sooner you lock that down, the more cold hard cash you will have to spend on goodies at the fest!
Also, start thinking about what type of camping you plan on doing this year, whether it be RV, VIP or just plain old general admission. If cash flow is low, you can always sign up to volunteer or be a part of the Green Team. Both are excellent ways to get a free ticket and also become an integral part of your favorite festival.
2) Assemble your crew!
Now is the time to let everyone know you are going to Summer Camp this year! The more friends you bring with you to Summer Camp, the more fun you will have. This is a fact. Over the years my crew has steadily grown to a whopping 30 people and it keeps getting bigger and better! Having a large crew is an easy way to lock down a ride to the fest, share expensive camping gear like canopies, and (most importantly) have the most epic dance parties with all your favorite people all weekend long. I recommend creating a group on Facebook to help connect with everyone and plan ahead for the fest.
3) Make a playlist!
Now that the first two rounds of artists has been announced, you have plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the lineup. I love discovering new live acts and revisiting old favorites. Getting your feet wet before the fest will help you decide which sets you just have to catch, and which you can skip. This is extremely vital for conserving energy and getting to see as much music as possible. Spotify and YouTube playlists are a perfect outlet for this. You can even share these playlists with fellow Summer Campers or even subscribe to one of Summer Camp’s Spotify playlist!
4) Check your inventory!
Tents, canopies, sleeping bags, coolers and grills are all high ticket items when it comes to camping. Waiting until the last minute to locate these essentials and inspect their condition could end up costing you a lot more money that you anticipated. I will never forget when I was about to leave for Summer Camp a few years back and realized I didn’t have a sleeping bag. I had to stop at the store on my way to the fest and drop $50 on a new one, which was not intended to be used for that purpose…
5) Request off work!
Summer Camp is Memorial Day weekend and, let’s face it, everyone wants to be off on a holiday weekend. If you wait too long to put in that request, it may be too late. So do it today and don’t forget about the Thursday Pre-party!
I know these all seem pretty basic but addressing each of these items now will save you a lot of time and money as we get closer to Summer Camp 2014. Also, sorry for the excessive use of exclamation points… I’M JUST REALLY EXCITED ABOUT SUMMER CAMP 2014!!!!
I spent last Saturday night at the Cubby Bear, located just across the street from Wrigley Field. This notorious Chicago bar was comfortably filled for Dopapod and Spread to play a long night of improvised music. Now this particular show came highly recommended by some of my most respectable friends in the jam scene. Plus it was cheap, so why not?
Spread opened up, warming the Chicago crowd as they began filling up the Cubby Bear. This local Chicago act has a vast approach to their live performances and their music is constantly interchanging, yet thick with improv.
I couldn’t help notice how much potential exists within this group of young musicians. Bass heavy foundations grounded most of Spread’s jams until guitarist Dave Petrizzo locked into beast mode. You can’t deny this band’s compositions offer limitless potential especially with songs like, “Elbow Slap”. They contain progressions so diverse they’re just asking to be explored.
This was my first Spread show since summer and I was extremely impressed with how much this band has grown over the past few months. Their weekly residency at the Cubby Bear this past fall has undoubtedly resulted in a growth spurt. And that was just the opening act!
Hailing from the east coast, Dopapod recently embarked on a massive multi-state tour in the middle of some crazy winter weather. Little did they know, snow storms and below zero wind chills never holds back a Chicago crowd.
Even though Dopapod played Summer Camp before, this was the first time I’d seen a full concert. I must admit, experiencing their live show gave me a deeper appreciation for what improvisational music is all about.
Basically, Dopapod was all over the place, and I mean that in the best possible way. The skill level of this quartet is beyond impressive. In fact, keyboardist Eli Winderman was so flipping good, I often found myself distracted by his talent. He has a fantastic ear for what is happening on stage and the most impressive ability to read Dopapod’s jams.
Guitarist Rob Compa resembles the great Jimmy Page and the late Frank Zappa. Especially when he lowers his head and locks into a jam. You couldn’t even see his face hiding under his shoulder length hair, but the melody of notes coming from his guitar was intoxicating. Bassist Chuck Jones and drummer Neal Evans supplied the heavier elements to Dopapod’s sets. This band tossed up everything from a punk vibe to a funkadelic jam in the matter of seconds. Still, one thing stayed consistent throughout the show: it was heavy.
Dopapod’s songs offer the type of variety that has no limits and there is a freedom to this expansive approach. Their minimal reliance on lyrics and avant garde approach to improv enabled their jams to grow deep, infiltrating our souls.
Overall the music produced at the Cubby Bear that night was heavy, yet extremely organic. The beauty of improvised music is how everyone in the room is experiencing a fresh sound. While Spread will continue to establish residency in Chicago, Dopapod is on their way to Colorado, then they will be heading back to the Midwest. Tour stops include Urbana, Iowa City, Indy, and Cleveland.
You can also get your hands on a few of their studio albums through the magic of Spotify and iTunes. They’re good, I bet you’d dig them.
Keller Williams played two very different sets of music at the Park West in Chicago on Friday, January 17th. The first was a familiar, one man band version of the multifaceted performer, but for the second set Keller lead an extremely entertaining funk band that appropriately calls themselves More Than a Little.
The first set presented a comfortable side of Keller with a mix of newer originals along with some old favorites. “Doobie in my Pocket”, “Best Feeling”, and “Floating on Freshies” showcased Keller’s knack for layering sounds with multiple instruments and looping them all into one gumbo of goodness. But by the time Keller arrived at “Porta Potty”, he decided to simplify. There is something to be said for a man who can hold a room’s attention with just his lyrics and a guitar. The half filled room was enamored by his presence. Looking around, I could see jaws ajar as we watched this man do what he does best.
Keller’s one man band show always has an element of simplicity to it. He executes his unique style with such ease that it seems like there is little to no effort whatsoever put into his work. But don’t let his laid back vibe and shit eating grin fool you. This guy’s timing is more on point than a metronome and his ability to layer melodies, basslines, and vocals is unlike anyone else out there.
Williams peaked his first set with the ever entertaining story of how “Gate Crashers Suck” that segued into “Scarlet Begonias”. This classic Grateful Dead cover included a blazing vocal trumpet solo that somehow fit the song perfectly. The jam eventually started to tease “Fire on the Mountain” only to break into the circus performance that is “Freak Show”. Everyone in the room finally seemed ready to let loose as they joined along with Keller as he closed out the set by journeying back into “Fire on the Mountain”.
As I mentioned earlier, second set felt like a completely different show. When the lights turned low, Keller danced his way to the middle of the stage. He was predictably barefoot, yet looking sharper than ever in an exquisitely tailored grey suite. His back up band, More Than a Little, wore all black as followed him out onto the Park West’s sage.
Keller’s band that night consisted of Gerard Johnson on keyboards, EJ Shaw on bass, and Toby Fairchild holding down the drums. These three shiny headed hairless men probably had the best view in the house since they spent all night posted up behind vocalists Sugar Davis and Tonya Jackson. The unity from each member donning all black made Keller stand out like a preacher in front of a choir.
The music of the second set kicked off with a full band jam that set a precedent for the rest of the night. Williams’ backup singers called out to to their leader, “Hey Keller,” demanding his attention as he showed off his best dance moves “…shut the FUNK up!” Keller froze as if this caught him by surprise.
Needless to say, it was hysterically funny to watch Keller Williams mesh his laid-back, don’t-take-yourselves-too-seriously vibe with a sophisticated five piece ensemble. But right from the first song you could tell everyone was on the same page in Keller’s Book of Funk. This comical juxtaposition continued until the end of the show.
There is something about “Kidney in a Cooler” that regresses Keller fans to a younger state. Yet, to hear it performed by a funk band was wildly entertaining. I can’t imagine what was like for a soul/gospel singer Sugar Davis to learn this tune and then deliver it every night with such conviction. It almost makes want to buy this tall glass of chocolate milk a double decker, double wide trailer.
Part of the reason Keller was touring with More Than a Little was to support his recently released live album, Funk. The Talking Heads’ cover “Once in a Life Time” seemed much less beatnik than the album’s version. Its strong bassline forced me to move my hips, but by this time the Park West was packed, almost to the point where it was uncomfortable. Trying to roam around the venue was virtually impossible without making others inhospitable, so I decided to watch the rest of the show from the venue’s horseshoe balcony. From this vantage point I couldn’t help noticed a neglected disco ball that quietly spun above the center of the room, yet the show was hitting full force.
Sugar Davis and Tonya Jackson kicked off their high heeled shoes to get themselves on Keller’s level during “Sampsons Wine”. This mashup of two delicious songs had Keller calling the shots as they flowed from one song to the other. One of the strongest jams of the set was “I Told You I Was Freaky”. This Flight of the Conchords’ cover captured the weird side of Keller, an element that has never faltered over the years. More Than a Little somehow understands Keller’s freaky vibe and together the group worked their way into Keller’s “Let’s Jam”, just before they slammed into a heady version of Rick Jame’s “Mary Jane”.
The night finally came to a close with a one song encore. Fan favorite, “Freaker by the Speaker” almost felt like a moment the whole room was waiting for. The group’s reggae rendition of this tune helped raise everyone’s freak flag high just before they were pushed out into the cold Chicago night.
Overall, this show’s second set put the fun back in funk. More Than a Little is a perfect name for the energy this group adds to Keller’s already entertaining live shows.
Denver was a busy city on New Year’s Eve. The String Cheese Incident was playing their 20th anniversary show just outside the city while Pretty Lights was headlining EDM extravaganza, Decadence in the heart of downtown. Umphrey’s McGee, on the other hand, was wrapping up a four night New Year’s run at Fillmore Auditorium. I hadn’t caught an Umphrey’s NYE show in over two years and there was truly no place I’d rather be.
I arrived at the venue just before the show started. My road beverage turned to liquid gold as I waited in a line that wrapped around the Fillmore and into a quaint Denver neighborhood. Luckily it wasn’t too cold outside, or maybe it was the alcohol, but everyone was feeling pretty good, until we heard the crowd roar from within the venue.
Frustration and panic washed over my face. With each note that followed, the pain burrowed deeper into the pit of my stomach. I realized that this was probably my version of hell; being stuck in a line outside a venue only to hear the empty echoes of my favorite songs being played inside while energetic lights escape from a securely guarded door.
The line moved slower than expected and I ended up missing the first forty minutes of the show, which included “Le Blitz > Phil’s Farm > Ocean Billy”. Therefore, the first official song on my New Year’s Eve setlist was a sassy “Mail Package” that Jake Cinninger soulfully delivered. It was followed by a thrashing “Wizard Burial Ground” that Brendan Bayliss comically dedicated “to all the lovers out there.”
Umphrey’s ended the first set of NYE with a debut of a never before played original, “Bad Friday”. This song was probably the highlight of the show. With the help of Mad Dog’s Filthy Secret on horns, Jake’s familiar soul riff finally took flight. A catchy backbeat turned this new Umph tune into straight-up pop music. From the first notes, a disco dance party formed under glimmering crystal chandeliers, which seemed to float above the crowd.
I love being present when an original song is played for the first time because it puts everyone on the same level. From the most avid fan to the kid experiencing their first show, no one knows what will happen next. It made me recollect the first time Umphrey’s played “Puppet Strings” at Summer Camp and my visceral reaction to hear it over and over again. I predict “Bad Friday” will be Umphrey’s bust out song of the 2014; much like “Puppet Strings” was in 2011.
Second set was much stranger than the first. A horn section, appropriately labled Mad Dog’s Filthy Secret, added a deeper level of weird to Umphrey’s musical landscapes. The sounds engulfed me since I was wearing a pair of headphones that streamed live soundboard audio. My previous experiences with Headphones and Snowcones convinced me that this was the best way completely submerge myself in the live music experience. So why not rock them at Umphrey’s biggest show of the year? The headphones demanded my focus be on the music throughout the first set so I chose to venture through the crowd alone during the second to get a better view of the stage.
I felt like an island surrounded by people, something that further enhanced my response to Umphrey’s debut cover of “Twilight Zone”, which also included teases of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”. I zoned into the way Jake commanded his guitar while Brendan attempted to catch the rhythm. It all felt like it wasn’t adding up so I started making friends with the strangers around me and eventually found myself covered in Umphlove stickers.
Songs like “40′s Theme” and “Booth Love” were done justice by the addition of horns, while ”No Diablo” finally got a chance to dig deeper into its Motown roots. Umphrey’s ended the set on a high note with the most unforgettable cover of the night, Phil Collins’ “Sussudio”. Once again, the strangeness crept in as I recalled American Psycho’s analysis of Phil’s work. At this point I began to realize that maybe this weird feeling was strictly subjective.
Third set began just before midnight with an insane version of “Hurt Bird Bath”. In keeping with tradition, Umphrey’s had never played this song into the New Year. Jeff Coffin, along with the rest of Mad Dog’s Secrets, amped up the energy of “Hurt Bird Bath” like I had never seen it before. The insane build up of the song made me appreciate the true meaning of “rage” in how it relates to the actions of a raving maniac.
By now I had found most of my friends standing right in front of the sound board in the center of the ballroom. This spot provided the best view I experienced all night. Light designer Jefferson Waful was perched on a tall platform just behind us and his devotion to symmetry made the room’s visual landscape just as stimulating as the audio coming from the headphones.
But when the countdown started, I removed my headphones. This was not a time when I wished to block out the rest of the room. Umphrey’s provided all the elements necessary to engrave this moment in my head for the rest of my life. Balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling. My focus switched from the stage to the people around me. Smiling from ear to ear, I hugged my friends and wished them the best in 2014.
Whimsical swirls of energy surrounded us as the band ventured into the New Year’s classic “Auld Lang Syne”. After spending a handful of past New Year’s Eves with Umphrey’s, I knew this was coming. I even looked up a few verses of the song before the show in preparation, so when I heard those first few notes I belted out the lyrics as loud as I could, greeting 2014 with a song.
It was all so intoxicating; the music, energy of the room, glow of the lights, and smell of weed becoming legal. At midnight Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana, something I never thought I’d experience in my lifetime. It made me feel like I was part of something BIG just by being there. New Year’s always offers a fresh start with limitless possibilities, and this was no exception.
The rest of the third set was pure perfection. “Hit It and Quit It”, a debut Funkadelic cover, provided just enough raunchiness to everyone’s juices flowing. I turned my headphones over to some friends so I could share the experience. The look on their faces was of pure ecstasy.
The night ended with an appropriate “Resolution” encore that jammed out the New Year’s classic, “Auld Lang Syne” and eventually segued into Kool & the Gang’s “Funky Stuff”. Umphrey’s was once again joined by Mad Dog’s Filthy Secrets to conclude the long night of music on a high note.
While strange, the night felt perfect in every way.
A long Chicago winter had finally concluded and warm breezes teased us as we hurried through the streets of Lincoln Park that Friday night. Rico and I were on our way to see a funk band. We stopped for dinner on the way so we were running a little late. By the time we arrived at the venue, we were greeted by a sheet of paper taped to the front entrance that read: SHOW SOLD OUT.
This was unexpected. Yet the more we thought about it, the more we felt like armatures. We decided to split up in search of extra tickets. Rico headed east and I ventured west.
For the first time in my life I found myself outside a sold out concert without a ticket. Awkwardly holding my finger in the air, I approached every passerby with three little words, “Got any extras?”
Most folks shook their heads no and some even wished me luck. One lady in a fur coat stared me down like I was crazy, obviously unaware of the sold out concert taking place just up the street. With each rejection the idea of giving up grew a little larger in the back of my mind.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t a single scalper trying to rip off unprepared concert goers like myself. I definitely had enough cash to cover the cost of the ticket and then some. I am not sure how much Rico was willing to part with, but I knew he was better at making those types of back alley deals than I was.
My focus turned to the yellow cabs dropping people off in front of the venue. They seemed like a good bet, but time marched on and I was still ticketless. Eventually the number of cabs delivering potential extra ticket holders started to dwindle and I was began entertaining new plans for my Friday night.
I met back up with Rico to discuss the possibility of giving up. I knew the opening act had already begun to play based on the lack of activity in the venue’s lobby, which we could see through the clear glass doors that were guarded by security. Rico insisted we give it one last try before we drank away our ticket money at the closest bar.
So, once again, we split up.
This time around I chose to linger around the venue. Eventually, I lost sight of Rico and decided to head around the corner to where the band’s tour bus was parked. I debated gathering up the courage to knock on the door with the odd chance of connecting with someone who could pull some strings. Surely they would have some sympathy for a cute girl in a short skirt. But before I got a chance to pimp myself out, I noticed a middle-aged couple hastily crossing the street towards the venue.
The woman’s long brown hair bounced in the wind while her escort’s shiny bald head reflected the streetlights above. They didn’t seem like your typical concert goers. In fact, they looked like money. Her leather cowboy boots were the real deal and his pinky ring screamed bling.
I approached them with a warm smile, “Any chance you guys have extra tickets? The show is sold out.”
They stopped immediately. The woman’s eyes got big as she soaked me in, “Actually, I think we each have a plus one on the guest list, don’t we?” She looked up at the man intently.
I beamed. “I have a friend that needs a ticket too. He’s just around the corner. And we have cash,” I was starting to get ahead of myself as hope grew inside my chest, “How much for the pair?”
“Oh, no no no darlin’,” She shook her head, “We could never take money for something we ain’t payin’ for!”
The man half smiled at me as he put his hand behind the woman’s back, motioning her towards the front entrance.
I practically ran to find Rico. “I got us tickets… for FREE!” the excitement exploded out of me. I had never received a free ticket to a concert before in my life, especially in this fashion. Back in the day I used to sneak into shows and festivals, but this was different. I was practically high off my good fortune.
We found the couple as they were checking in at the box office. Rico and I were still in awe as they each handed us a small blue raffle ticket. We thanked them profusely as the four of us walked through the doors and entered an already heated venue.
“Now you two have fun,” the woman flashed her million dollar smile and gave us a wink. The couple hurried into the show, leaving us alone in an almost empty lobby.
Still in shock, I turned to Rico, “I can’t believe that just happened!”
I first heard Rubblebucket while road tripping from Boulder to Memphis in 2012. A friend and I were on tour with Umphrey’s and, since I was driving, he was in charge of the music. Needless to say, I completely fell in love with this band the minute their energetic sound exploded through my speakers.
From that moment I knew I had to see them live and on December 7th Rubblebucket was finally playing my home town, Chicago. The show was also being held at one of my favorite small venues in the city, Lincoln Hall. This room’s quaint layout contains a small U-shaped balcony that overlooks the dance floor and mousy stage. A bird’s eye view is my favorite vantage point to see a show, so I headed upstairs and claimed space on the balcony ledge just before the show started.
Rubblebucket is a 7 piece band based out of Brooklyn. Their sound is similar to Phantogram’s mixed with the chaos of LCD Soundsystem and the groove of Burning Spear. You can hear jazz influences, along with funk and even disco throughout their catalog. There is undoubtedly an element of pop that attempts to break the surface but Rubblebucket is just too awesome to let that happen.
Overall, their live show was both inspiring and engaging. Rubblebucket is the type of band that fosters an exchange of energy between themselves and their audience. As the night progressed, I couldn’t help notice a change in the crowd’s confidence while I watched from my balcony perch. It was as if all insecurities got washed away as the whole room finally let loose.
The band’s leader, Alex Toth, takes on the role of trumpeter while his right-hand man, Adam Dotson, holds down the trombone. The pair multitasks as backup vocalists, whistlers, and synchronized dancers throughout the show, but its saxophonist Kalmia Traver on lead vocals that truly blows you away. Her high energy, passionate performance is wild. When she wasn’t encouraging everyone to sing along, she pranced around in her leopard print overalls passing out high-5′s to audience members in the first row.
What many may not know is that this bad ass rock star has no hair is because she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer this past year. Rubblebucket’s most recent tour actually started just as Kalmia finished up her last round of chemotherapy. Magnificently enough, by the time the tour got to Chicago this woman had more life than any other person at the Lincoln Hall show. She energetically danced across the stage throughout her performance and even jumped in the crowd from time to time.
In fact, the highlight of the night arrived when Traver abandoned the stage to sing the first verse of “Came Out of a Lady” from the middle of the dance floor. By the end of the song, the whole brass section was throwing down in the center of the room as the audience danced around them. As if this scene couldn’t get any more stimulating, the energy of the room finally exploded into a frenzy as hundreds of balloons dropped from the ceiling.
Rubblebucket’s emphasis on audience interaction is a refreshing approach to the live music experience. The bells and whistles of their Chicago show included two marriage proposals (one fake and one real), a balloon drop, a parachute that covered half the crowd, and even a cover of the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes”. Needless to say, I left the show that night more in love with this band than ever before. Usually our scene doesn’t produce too many breakout mainstream acts, but I am really excited to see what the future holds for Rubblebucket.
Here is a sweet video I shot at the show!
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!