Words by: Jessica Lopa :: Images by: Adam McCullough
The Black Crowes & Umphrey's McGee
07.06.07 :: Petrillo Music Shell :: Chicago, IL
Taste of Chicago played host to one of this summer's most lively, fan friendly concerts. Food and music enthusiasts gathered in droves to lend an ear to Chicago-based progressive jam-rockers, Umphrey's McGee and longtime designated soul rockers The Black Crowes.
| Jake Cinninger - UM :: 07.06 ::
Opening with a 45-minute power set, Umphrey's McGee set the bar high with lip curling, brow raising guitar and bass runs, spanning every musical style from heavy metal to ska to jazz. Guitarist-vocalist Brendan Bayliss threw "Wallets Worth" into a fast, high pitched groove within the opening bars, dissipating the notion of what a planned climatic moment usually entails, sending first time listeners for a loop. Although surprised by UM's immediacy, I was definitely left with the notion these guys have done their share of listening to early progressive rock bands, all the way from Dream Theater to Metallica.
Umphrey's McGee's showed they can explore the opposite side of the music spectrum as well. Four minutes into their first piece, an unforeseen and not so subtle segue into a ballad-like piano solo occurred. The established heavy metal mood was instantly transformed by this striking contrast in style and tempo. It turns out the incongruent segue was the introduction to an improvisation titled, "Jimmy Stewart," a name taken from the hall in which their jam sessions first occurred. Opening the space with a slow groove, the band introduced ideas, defining space with percussionist Andy Farag, communicating to slowly progress and lead back into the heavy "Wallets Worth."
| Brendan Bayliss - UM :: 07.06|
Their setlist was characterized by meticulous playing and numerous improvisatory highlights that required listeners to be sophisticated and open-minded. One aspect I enjoyed was the interesting use of vocal harmonies that were as distinct and complex as their lyrical meaning, which also enhanced and helped develop the mood of their playing, bringing Umphrey's McGee's expressiveness full circle.
The strength of a band can be measured by their ability to listen and respond - two traits challenging in their own rights - but once in balance with one another become the two most important building blocks for a band's staying power. Working through their ambitious progressions with obvious ease, Umphrey's makes clear their musical intentions aim to take a bite from many styles but their solid footing and general know-how allows them to present them with taste and talent.
After a very short set change, The Black Crowes made their way onstage unannounced. Clad in apparel reminiscent of the 60's hippie generation and sunglasses, lead singer Chris Robinson's lanky silhouette moved into the foreground. After commenting on what a nice night it was, the band launched into a lengthy intro to "Wiser Time" over a chorus of cymbals.
| Chris Robinson - Black Crowes :: 07.06 ::
On "Jealous Again," the storytelling lyrics, shared between brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, are nicely layered with the female background singers' upper harmonies. The vocals are pitted against guitar and keyboard phrasing, alternating the instrumentation and creating several highlights in the arrangement.
"Cosmic Friend" gathered momentum with wailing guitar and prominent bass interplay. The song's vocals are doubled in the bass leaving a lot of space for Chris to explore his vocal range. With call and response ideas exchanged between vocals and guitar, heavy drum accents supplied this confident groove with the edge it needed. Proving that The Black Crowes can cross several genres lines, the band slowed things down on "Seeing Things." In the true spirit of a slow blues number, Chris led the vocal hierarchy between himself and his soulful backup singers with soaring intensity and clarity. Transferring between his low and high range with ease, Chris exposed and expanded the wounded nature of the lyrics artfully. With a slow buildup and depth of groove, the song arrived at the powerful climax with its minimal harmonic framework intact.
Those only familiar with the Crowes' radio hits - "She Talks To Angels," "Remedy" and "Hard to Handle" - had to wait until the tail end of the set to sing-along. These songs seemed mechanical for most of the band except for the liberties taken with the phrasing during "She Talks To Angels," demonstrating Chris' intuitive ability to define time and space with his sincere efforts. Delayed entrances on the verses forced a new shape and accent to emerge during the song's bridge.
| Rich Robinson - Black Crowes :: 07.06|
The Black Crowes' setlist from the Petrillo Band Shell was a small montage of their impressive repertoire. Reflecting on different styles from past generations of rock & roll and blues musicians while simultaneously adding a modern twist, The Black Crowes manage to preserve the roots of American Music with authenticity. With a lead singer as unbridled and willing as Chris Robinson at their helm, The Black Crowes' abundance of musicality is transformed into a contagious art form.
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