Words & Images by: Bill Clifford
Umphrey's McGee/YMSB :: 07.27.07 :: Lupo's :: Providence, RI
It was the kind of weekend live music fans salivate over. Two touring stalwarts crossed paths at two of the region's finest mid-sized venues. Yonder Mountain String Band made a rare run through New England, joining Umphrey's McGee at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, RI on Friday and Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, NH on Saturday. JamBase checked into Lupo's to offer you this report from night one.
| Aijala, Stasik, Austin :: 07.27 :: RI|
While each band is more than capable of a headlining slot, the co-bill offered fans the opportunity to hear top-notch collaboration, experimentation and improvisation from two bands whose styles, sounds and genres couldn't be further apart brought together in camaraderie and a shared appreciation of authentic musicianship.
By the scheduled start time, YSMB had taken the stage at Lupo's and the rush of the crowd filled the limited floor space in front. Well into "Ramblin' in the Rambler," when the band paused for "Just one more Jagermeister shot" it was obvious the crowd was drinking in revelry right along with them. From the start, the band and the audience picked up on one another's energy. The "Rambler" > "Fingerprint" > "Rambler" sandwich, with several emotionally charged peaks and solos from Jeff Austin (mandolin) and Dave Johnston (banjo), immediately set the bar quite high.
| Dave Johnston (YMSB) :: 07.27 :: RI|
Austin, wearing a St. Patrick's green Red Sox cap, took a moment to introduce guitarist Adam Aijala, noting that the Massachusetts native's parents were in the house. "Yup, we're Massholes and we're proud of it," Aijala quipped. While YMSB will always be remembered for their genre-blurring pickin' over vocals, it was clear that Aijala sang on "Night Out" with just a bit more gusto and passion than his peers.
A couple "more traditional bluegrass tunes," as Austin put it, certainly didn't mellow the crowd. In fact, the twangy dual vocals of Austin and Aijala on "100 Years From Now" was the highlight of the set, with many emotional crescendos that brought enlivened cheers and dancing. YMSB closed out its 90-minute performance with "Steep Grade, Sharp Curves" with what seemed like the entire crowd singing-a-long.
| Cinninger (UM) & Aijala (YMSB) :: 07.27 :: RI|
But, the music never really came to an end. After a stellar banjo solo from Johnston, Austin said, "Let's see if we add a little percussion to this what happens." In stepped Andy Farag from Umphrey's McGee, and thus began the transition, as members of Umphrey's found their way onstage with a rousing cheer, each feeling his way into the YMSB tune. The unique interplay between the ten musicians - such as the keys of UM's Joel Cummins and Aijala's acoustic guitar, or the fun of Austin's mandolin picking chased by UM's Jake Cinninger's playful electric guitar - was certainly what drew many to these performances. Unfortunately, the inter-band jamming, while no letdown, was too sparse with YMSB making their way offstage far too quickly.
I felt a shift in the crowd with YMSB's exit. What had been a loosely packed, dancing jamboree of thirty-something bluegrass fans suddenly became a tight throng of college aged UM fans. As bodies continued to pour into the tight confines, they bumped and bounced against one another as the space became humid and sticky. But, so too did the music. UM got hot quick, beginning with a bouncy, rhythmic "Resolution" featuring the jovial vocals and guitar of Brendan Bayliss. The stylistic differences between the two bands were obvious. YMSB's acoustic newgrass was a stark contrast to the electric trance-dance flavor of the current and ever-evolving UM.
| Andy Farag (UM) :: 07.27 :: RI|
Umphrey's has been one of the most prolific bands on the scene, having released three discs worth of studio recordings in the past year and half. More to the point, tonight's set contained not one song found on any of the bands recordings, and leaned stylistically towards trance-oriented improvisations. It certainly wasn't lost on the many bobbin' heads and constantly-in-motion bodies dancing their asses off.
"In the Hall Of The Mountain King" was a sound-alike to the Inspector Gadget theme, and the pure, slinky funk of "Mail Package" mellowed the high for many. That was followed up with the pop perfection of "2x2" and "Alex's House," the latter featuring sultry dual vocals of Bayliss and Cummins, as well as playful jamming between Cummins and Cinninger. Having recently played the Trancegression Festival with pals The Disco Biscuits, several songs tonight - especially the set closing "August" and "Bridgeless" with extended and open ended improvisational jamming - were clear indicators of UM's future direction.
| UM & YMSB :: 07.27 :: RI|
Both YMSB and UM found their way back to the stage for a two-song encore. At the very least, for this critic, it was the highlight of the evening to hear the ten musicians cover the Led Zeppelin nugget "That's The Way." The mix of the dual electric guitars from Cinninger and Bayliss with Johnston's banjo and Austin's mandolin was among the sweetest sounds I've heard in a long time. By adding their own flare to a traditional style of music, Yonder Mountain String Band has led a resurgence in that genre. With multiple stops and starts, twists and turns, style shifts and genre-bending song structures, Umphrey's McGee is certainly amongst today's most talented musicians. Put these two acts on the same stage and fans are able to bare witness to true leaders in the jam world.
Setlist :: 07.27.07 :: Lupo's :: Providence, Rhode Island
Yonder Mountain String Band
One Set: Grave > If There's Still Ramblin' in the Rambler (let him go) > Fingerprint > If There's Still Ramblin' in the Rambler (let him go), What You're Selling, Night Out, 100 Years From Now, 100 Years From Now, Mental Breakdown, Nothin' But Nothin' > Ten > Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie > Ten, Kentucky Mandolin, Angel > Boatman > The Bolton Stretch, On the Run > Sidewalk Stars > On the Run, Steep Grade Sharp Curves1
1 Umphrey's McGee joins the band and goes into their own set
One Set: #Jazz Odyssey > Resolution > The Triple Wide > In the Hall of the Mountain King, Mail Package, 2x2 > Alex's House > 2x2, The Crooked One* > August, Bridgeless
Encore That's the Way^, Partyin' Peeps^
Notes Jeff Austin and Brendan Bayliss along with YMSB opened
# YMSB jammed out "Steep Grades, Sharp Curves" to close their set, one by one, they were replaced by Umphrey's before seguing into "Resolution"
^ with Jeff Austin on mandolin and Dave Johnston on banjo
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