Words by: Nick Boeka | Images by: Susan J. Weiand & Dave Vann
Umphrey's McGee & The New Deal :: 10.31.08 :: The Warfield :: San Francisco, CA
When one of the biggest, most celebrated party nights of the year lands on a Friday, you know weeks in advance that things are going to get a little nuts. Friends and fans came in from all over the country to celebrate this All Hallows' Eve, and this year's event at The Warfield played host to the arpeggiated sounds of Umphrey's McGee. A wet San Francisco evening and the hustle and bustle of the heart of downtown provided the backdrop for a high intensity evening of music, visuals and characteristically wild and outlandish costumes.
Umphrey's McGee is comprised of six extremely talented and technical musicians, who individually may not earn the notoriety or respect they deserve, but as a group they form a package that is so well rehearsed that it continues to capture the attention of audiences throughout the music scene. What strikes me most about this group is the mathematical approach they apply to their music, and the ability to be so on point, from measure to measure, even in a live setting. In fact, even in comparing their live sound to their album material, including the soon to be released Mantis - which drops in early 2009 - they seem to be able to pull off the chops even better when playing live. Their approach to melody and songwriting shows that they have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to music theory and arrangement, even though it may often cause one to describe their sound as "musical ADD."
On this night, their ADD played perfectly into their scheme and theme for the evening, which was all about the mash-ups. Costumes for the band featured each member in a mash-up of personas. For example, drummer Kris Myers was dressed as "The Incredible Hulk Hogan," with a green Hulkamania t-shirt in a tight muscle suit, which fit his monstrous attack on the skins. A complete list of costumes is included with the setlist below. The stage was also heavily decorated, providing incredible fabric-based backdrops, and this material on the back of the stage made it look like a huge climbing wall, all of which made the entire theater appear alive as lights bounced from point to point.
Warming up the evening was Canada's The New Deal, finally making their first West Coast appearance in close to a decade (The Join does NOT count as the New Deal!). In what has to be one of the earliest slots this band has ever played, I only arrived at the venue in time to catch the last few songs of their set, but thankfully I knew that I had more of them to come, later in the evening.
|Kris Myers - Umphrey's McGee :: 10.31 :: By Weiand|
Jamie "Guitar" Shields (keys), Darren Shearer (drums) and Dan Kurtz (bass) are the core group of this larger-than-live sound, which was the perfect way to start this all-night dance party. Even as their set ended, the intensity level had risen remarkably, as people started getting loose. Later as the Umphrey's set started, Shields and Shearer returned to the stage to engage and catapult the audience with Daft Punk's "Robot Rock," which was a highlight of the early part of the set, and offered a little peek at the upcoming "Join" shows, which will be comprised of members of each of these two bands.
The mash-up theme that took over the evening's costume selections also seemed to be applied to Umphrey's song choices. After a blistering "Higgins," the rest of the first set featured a few "songs" with mixed up sequences. Or to describe it in words, take the verse of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" and then jam in the chorus of MJ's "Thriller," then back into "Brick" and then return to "Thriller" for an outro jam. Think of a rock music DJ, where the DJ is the band and each musician is the pad, knob or dial that executes the result. And it was executed perfectly. At set break, as people started getting really weird and the intensity grew larger and larger in the room, I spoke with several folks who commented on how well the mash-up idea was being presented, and how the risk was paying off in spades.
After the set break, the lights dimmed and the second set seemed to just hit people like a truck. If there is one thing that this group does really well is synchronicity, not just in their notes but in their rhythm and approach to the notes. Guitarist-singers Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss have found their nitch together, and there isn't a better one-two combo out there when it comes to powerful, face-melting leads, strong song structures and epic guitar battles. They tore through originals, covers and more mash-ups, never losing sight of the goal to rock people senseless. Cinninger's hard/metal rock background shines through in this regard, and there is no escaping guitar lines so fast that you feel like you're playing Guitar Hero 3 on expert mode and speed. By evening's end, as the lights came up and people put themselves back together and filed out, there was still quite a stir to the air. When you emerged onto Market St., the rain had picked up and there was only one real intelligent choice to make: Where to keep partying?
|Umphrey's McGee :: 10.31 :: By Dave Vann|
Fortunately, Club 6, which was located just down the block, was hosting the official after party, which featured an additional late night set from The New Deal and a few other DJs and artists. I promptly made my way over after collecting myself. Once inside, the venue featured three distinct rooms, each with a different style of music. The main bar room, which also doubled as a gallery with some really incredible paintings on display, was being entertained by a dual-DJ VS.set between Ana Sia and Danny Corn. Behind that room (and probably unnoticed by many there) is a smaller bar room, which featured a full live funk, African-beat band. And finally, there is a basement level, which reminds me of a larger frat house type layout, which had The New Deal playing a long, sick and nasty set, packing the place to nearly uncomfortable levels. I don't think that there isn't anything Jamie Shields doesn't know how to play and these guys always make you get a work out, and this night was no different. I could really speak for a long time about what this group has done to help shape the jamtronica scene, being early pioneers in this genre that they've helped define while always stretching their own musical parameters beyond any one word descriptor.
Closing out the evening and debuting for the first time (and certainly not the last) in S.F. was Pretty Lights (aka Derek Smith), who hails from Fort Collins, CO and has been absolutely killing it since earlier this year. His brand of two-step, dub, dirty-grimy dance music has been getting people wet and stirring up a buzz. And if you can stay up late enough to check out his PA sets or his collaboration with live drummer Cory Eberhard you can catch the wave that Smith continues to make. If you haven't checked out Pretty Lights yet, check this link and scoop up their FREE double disc album.
Umphrey's McGee Mash-up Costume List:
Kris Myers: Incredible Hulk Hogan
Brendan Bayliss: Rick James Bond
Andy Farag: Ronald McDonald Trump
Ryan Stasik: Pittsburgh Van Pirate
Joel Cummins: Sugar Ray Charles
Jake Cinninger: Bezel Bob Dylan... the devil, complete with harmonica
Set I: Higgins > The Triple Wide / Robot Rock^ > Ocean Billy > Rainy Day Woman No. 12 & 35$ > Ocean Billy, Women Wine and Song > Utopian Fir > Gulf Stream > Utopian Fir, TNT / Paranoid / Dirty Deeds^^
Set II: Phil's Farm* / 7 Nation Army / Money / How Many More Times?** > All In Time, Bridgeless > Miss Tinkle's Overture > Thunderstruck& > Miss Tinkle's Overture, FF -> The Floor, Another Brick in the Wall / Thriller&& -> Bridgeless
Encore: Hangover, Walk / Sad But True / Clint Eastwood%
^ Daft Punk / The Doors mash-up; with Jamie Shields on keys and Darren Shearer on percussion
$ Bob Dylan
^^ AC/DC / Black Sabbath / AC/DC mash-up; with Bon Scotty Osbourne on vocals
** The White Stripes / Pink Floyd / Led Zeppelin mash-up
&& Pink Floyd / Michael Jackson mash-up
% Pantera / Metallica / The Gorillaz mash-up
Umphrey's McGee's next show is 11/13 in Chicago. Complete tour dates available here.
Continue reading for more images of Umphrey's McGee's Halloween bash...