Words by: Patrick Knibbs | Images by: Adam George
Umphrey's McGee :: 12.31.07 :: Aragon Ballroom :: Chicago, IL
Future Rock :: 12.31.07 :: Kinetic Playground :: Chicago, IL
Umphrey's McGee's annual end-of-the-year parties in Chicago have evolved into epic throwdowns for the band and their hometown faithful. This year, the New Year's Eve show served a dual purpose: it was the culmination of a big year and a celebration of their 10th anniversary.
| Umphrey's McGee :: 12.31.07|
Dubbed "The Black and White Ball," the night began with a special video tribute that documented their humble, local-band-does-ok beginnings to their current prog-rock deity. The night also paid homage to house music, the genre that put Chicago on the map internationally in the late '70s and '80s, with funky in-between sets from DJs James Kirkby and Lyrek. If that weren't enough, the band was assisted by Mad Dog's Filthy Little Secret Horns - sax man/sparkplug Jeff Coffin (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), trumpeter-vocalist Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio ), saxophonist Chris Neal, trombonist Brent Sanders and trumpeter Mike "Mad Dog" Mavridoglou - throughout the night. Besides the horns, which have been commonplace for UM on NYE dating back to 2004, the band also added an extra visual aspect to the mix. No, it wasn't a giant pyramid or even last year's lasers, but a huge LED screen centered above the stage came in handy for the countdown to midnight.
Musically, all three sets were solid, and the selections spanned their growing catalog. Opener "Divisions" showcased the crisp vocals of Brendan Bayliss, which cut through the song's numerous sections with surgical precision. Lyrically, the song was a perfect option on a night renowned for unleashing repressed emotions about past relationships and times long gone. The guitars of Bayliss and Jake Cinninger cranked through "Divisions" and merged into a thunderous "Der Bluten Kat" > "A Half Sleep" > "Der Bluten Kat" jam that featured a spirited sax solo from Coffin. Following a "Plunger" > "Jimmy Stewart" > "Plunger" sandwich, the band concluded "Divisions" before taking their first set break. For a first set, this was pretty good, with a lively pace and fairly diverse song selection.
During the second set, a nasty electro-funk jam emerged from "Jimmy Stewart." As the stage gradually went dark, the band emerged at the soundboard where they continued to poke and prod at the established groove. With all the commotion focused at the soundboard, no one noticed keyboardist Joel Cummins creep behind the Aragon's old pipe organ, high above the stage, until it was his turn to solo. Bathed in a bright spotlight, Cummins' solo invigorated the already boisterous crowd, and kept the night chugging along at a ferocious pace.
| Umphrey's McGee :: 12.31.07|
The pre-New Year's Eve set break was rowdy. People located friends, loading up on drinks and getting funky to DJ Lyrek's beats as the final minutes of 2007 ticked away. At approximately 11:50 p.m., the band emerged from backstage. Wasting no time, they jumped headfirst into a fiery "Miss Tinkle's Overture," which stumbled into the midnight countdown and finally "Auld Lang Syne." The energetic brass section, including an intense solo by Coffin, freshened up the NYE staple, before jumping seamlessly back into "Miss Tinkle's".
Wrapping up the strong set were solid versions of older songs. "All In Time" featured a Top Gun theme tease. A smoking hot "Much Obliged" > "Front Porch" and a horn-infused "Alex's House" > "Bright Lights" concluded the night. For the encore UM blasted through an up-tempo "Nothing Too Fancy" jam that encased a Hartswick sung version of The Who's "5:15."
Umphrey's McGee's position atop the modern jam/progressive music food chain is impressive. They've established themselves as dependable entertainers in an industry whose future is uncertain and filled with disposable bands and music.
Following the Umph-stravaganza, I made my way across the street to the Kinetic Playground for the conclusion of Future Rock's NYE festivities. The Chicago trio has become a late night force with their blend of organic and electronic instruments, climatic rhythmic progressions and knack for choice Daft Punk covers.
Ringing in the New Year with style, Future Rock kept the mood and the tempo upbeat. They ripped through several disco quick funk numbers and fueled the late night crowd with an arsenal of keyboards, synthesizers and even a vocoder! Highlights included their own "Torture," a hypnotic track off their recent Gears album, and renditions of "Da Funk" and "Robot Rock," which resurfaced visions of pyramids and warm weather.
| Ryan Stasik - Umphrey's McGee :: 12.31.07|
Umphrey's McGee :: 12.31.07 :: Aragon Ballroom :: Chicago, Illinois
Set One: Divisions > Der Bluten Kat > A Half Sleep$ > Der Bluten Kat, Rocker part II*, Plunger > "Jimmy Stewart"** > Plunger > Divisions
Set Two: Mulche's Odyssey^, Resolution^, FF > "Jimmy Stewart"&, Black Messiah$$^ -> Syncopated Strangers, Wizard Burial Ground^
Set Three: Miss Tinkle's Overture^ > Auld Lang Syne^ > Miss Tinkle's Overture^, All In Time&&, #Much Obliged > Front Porch, Alex's House^ > Bright Lights^
Encore: Nothing Too Fancy > 5:15^^ > Nothing Too Fancy
$ first time played, Jeff Coffin
? with Jeff Coffin on saxophone
* first time played, original
** with lyrics; similar to 11.10.07 Blue Echo
^ with Mad Dog's Filthy Little Secret horns
& with Andy, Brendan, Jake and Ryan on electronics at the soundboard; with Joel on venue's pipe organ
$$ first time played, The Kinks; with Jake on keys with Joel
&& with Top Gun theme tease
# with Liquid tease
^^ first time played, The Who; with horns and Jen Hartswick on vocals
Continue reading for more images of Umphrey's McGee on NYE...