From Tuesday, September 6th to Friday, September 9th, Umphrey’s McGee played eight full sets at Brooklyn Bowl (a bowling alley-concert venue hybrid) and one at the Apple Store in SoHo to promote their new album, ‘Death By Stereo’. While the Chicago-based band has played in New York many times since their formation at Notre Dame in 1997, this concert series carries special importance for the fans here.
“They run with the Jam-Band crowd, which isn’t very popular in New York.” says 23-year-old David Del Sol. He hopes that these shows bring a larger fan base to the metropolitan area so he can see them more often.
While the band certainly uses long improvisational sections, many fans disagree with labelling them as a “jam-band”. David Carvell from New City, New York prefers, “prog-rock,” while Zach Munday from Long Island calls their sound “musical gumbo.”
You can see what he means with their first song, ‘Jazz Odyssey.’ Joel Cummins opens their first song with electronic sounds from his keyboards, before Kris Myers brings in drums with Andy Farag providing additional percussion. The intricate guitar riffs and virtuoso solos by Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger on top of Ryan Stasik’s pounding bass line have a dark, heavy metal feel before quickly moving into a lighter, Trey Anastasio-like style. They change again moments later, now sounding reminiscent of early Aerosmith.
What’s remarkable is that after nine full sets in four days, Umphrey’s McGee hasn’t repeated a single track. If their original songs, like the funky ‘Push the Pig,’ and the heavy metal, ‘Wizard Burial Ground,’ didn’t prove their musical range, their cover songs hammer it home. Tonight, they play Van Halen’s, ‘Hot for the Teacher,’ The Who’s ‘Eminence Front,’ and ‘Waterfalls,” from TLC.
In between these songs is the improvisation, which the band calls ‘Jimmy Stewarts.’ Bayliss acts a sort of conductor for the band, using hand signs and facial expressions to direct changes. Friday afternoon at the Apple Store, Bayliss went backstage during a Jimmy Stewart based on Miles Davis’s ‘Who Knows?’ to conduct the band using Apple’s Facetime software.
The sudden changes in style and tempo can leave someone unfamiliar with their style feeling a little lost. But the sold-out crowd here doesn’t seem to mind, and are always dancing along right with them. For many of them, it’s their favourite part about Umphrey’s McGee.
“It’s fist-bumping, head-banging combined with the hips-shakin’,” says Rachel Kurland, a 39-year-old New Yorker that has abandoned her bowing game to dance.
On Tuesday, Umphrey’s McGee played with Bob Weir, a founding memeber of The Grateful Dead, and Biz Markie on Thursday. It would have been nice to see a special guest for Friday night’s finale, but the fans don’t seem to mind.
“Tonight takes the cake as far as song selection and improv goes,” says Conor Seery, who roadtripped from Colorado to see all of their New York performances. “They always have a smile by the end of the show.”
At the end of the night, it was the fans who were smiling the most.
Their new album is due out Tuesday, September 13th. This show, and all other Umphrey’s McGee concerts can be downloaded.8/10
Images by Brian Spady, provided by Umphrey’s McGee and Shore Fire media.