As summertime buds in the Bay Area, there’s a lot of anxiety buzzing around for change as 2001 has marked its halfway point. Bay Area music fans were enlightened by the incredible sounds of Umphrey's McGee on Monday, July 2 at the Fourth Street Tavern in San Rafael, CA and on Tuesday, July 3, for a JamBase Presents show at the Tongue & Groove in San Francisco. Umphrey’s has been ripping up stages with their dark and heavy funk fusion rock while the same time laying down the softest most melodic rhythms that the Midwest has produced in a while. The problem is, if you're not in the Midwest, you don't get to see Umphrey's McGee.

Originally from South Bend, IN, Umphrey’s McGee spends their full time living and playing in Chicago, IL. However, the band decided to show the west coast how to “bring out the booty wax” and get down with da umph. On Monday night, the 4th St Tavern was packed with about 50 people, only about 15 of them understanding what they were about to witness. The band opened with "Last Man Swerving" and seamlessly segued into the beautiful and emotional “Divisions,” without question one of Umphrey’s most classic tunes, yet rarely played these days. The first set continued with a smooth mix of heavy syncopated guitar riffs, flowing drums, swirling keyboards, and thundering bass sounds that got the San Rafael locals asking themselves, "Who are these guys, they rip!" They included a lovely rendition of Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” as well as perhaps the most epic Umphreys song, “2x2,” to the huge delight of SuperDeeLove. The second set opened up with one of the bands most intense songs, “All Things Ninja” in which everyone on the dance floor in transformed into a Ninja practically because of the heavy grooves that are thrown down. Guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger trade off soaring jams that take you down to the middle of the earth amongst a much of heavy and grimy mud, but then release you into thin air in with incredibly elating climaxes.

Drummer Mike Mirro and percussionist Andy Farag were graced with the opportunity to play with local drumming sensation, Alan Hertz, who joined the band for "Hangover >> Sweetness >> DRUMS >> Sweetness >> Hangover" in which the audience was moved to about 15 different driving, bouncing, floating, sucking and stomping sections before this 25 minute session was complete. After a lovely "2nd Self" and two more songs to close the show, the band was done. However, the vibe around the venue was that of a special night. All of a sudden, 50 west coast music heads were transformed by Umphrey's McGee and thrown into a different musical land for 2 hours. There were brought back to the “armpit of America,” as Brendan Bayliss likes to say, and shown what incredibly tight and talented musicians are all about.

On Tuesday night, Umphrey’s reached the pinnacle of their West Coast Tour, selling out the Tongue and Groove in San Francisco and being able to play three sets of music at the JamBase Presents evening of Midwest funk-rock. As the band ripped into “Der Bluten Kat” to open the show, band manager Vince Iwinski turned to me and said, “this is the best part of the night, because you know that you’re about to get three sets of Umphrey’s McGee.” Surely enough, the band ripped from soft and rhythmic songs to dark, slow, and mind- blowing moments of energy that at times has the intensity of a Disco Biscuits show, but in a much more developed and tighter sound. Umphrey’s likes to walk the listener from one carefully written out section to another, keeping the ear guessing for what will come next. One long time fan of the band put it correctly when he said, “the moment isn’t created from what section they’re playing now, but from what section they were just playing.”

The band continued to impress SF kids throughout the night but reached their highlight it the second set with “Andy’s Last Beer,” without question the highest energy point in the night. The rest of the show included cover songs like Men At Work’s “Down Under,” and Warren G’s “Regulate” (da umph got some soul to them), as well as originals like the acoustic “Uncle Wally,” the rocking and rolling classic “All in Time,” and the syncopated and jazzy “Nothing Too Fancy.”

According to keyboardist Joel Cummins, he has been extremely joyous with the turnout of people, the shows, and the reception they’ve received down the coast and considers them very lucky to be able to play at such an incredible place and have such an incredible time. I’d like to wish the best of luck to the band members, Brendan Bayliss, Ryan “Pony” Stasik, Mike Mirro, Joel Cummins, Andy Farag, and Jake Cinninger as well as manager, Vince Iwinksi, sound engineer Kevin Browning and light director Adam Budney. This band has been working extremely hard since their first gig in South Bend, IN at the late Bridget McGuire’s under the name “Fat Tony.” Umphrey’s now prepares for a big weekend at High Sierra Music Festival and another week on the west coast. If you haven’t seen these guys or heard any of their music, you’re missing out. They’re doing something very special and I highly recommend listening to one of the most full sounds I’ve heard from any band in a long time. Whether they’re covering Paul Simon, Lionel Richie, or throwing intense original sounds your way, this band will not fail to impress.

"8 arms play for one goal"

Tim Neagle
JamBase Correspondent with Umph!
Go See Live Music!
Photos by SuperDee

This review was written before Umphrey's McGee rocked out two HUGE performances at the High Sierra Music Festival this past weekend. Congratulations to all the musicians and crew for an incredibly successful first trip to California!

[Published on: 7/10/01]

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