Umphrey's McGee finished the recording of their new album this past Thursday and celebrated the accomplishment with a weekend of ear pounding shows in Ohio and Indiana. The Umph spent their last 2 weeks jamming at a 200 acre Barn Studio in SW Ohio, tooling around on ATV's and laying down tracks for an album which I suspect will be out early in 2002. Vince Iwinski, Band Manager, couldn't have been happier with how it turned out and the band was equally pleased that they were able to complete most of the studio work for the album during their time at the Barn.
On Friday night the weeks of jamming in private came to a head at
the Mad Frog in Cincinnati where UM unleashed their energy on a crowd of fans made up of some locals, but a lot of folks from places like Indiana and Illinois. Some of the members of Ray's Music Exchange were also present sparking rumors of a guest spot for The Mad Dog on trumpet.
UM took the stage shortly after 10:30 and let loose on the instrumental tune "Space Funk Booty," which got the crowd moving with purpose. The sound was great for the oddly shaped Mad Frog, which had the band wedged into a triangular space in the back corner of the bar. "2 x 2," a UM classic, appeared about halfway into the set and set the crowd on fire with the patented Brendan Bayliss' soul-oh-ing.
The one thing I notice about UM is that they put a lot of time in on vocals. A lot of bands fail to focus on improving vocal qualty in their music. Luckily, for UM, they have Bayliss, who's soft lyrics balance the razor sharp edge their music forms as they play. "Water" is a song that exemplifies this balance by taking you on a journey through a beautiful lyrical opening into an intense orchestrated jam, becoming almost mechanical at times, and then back to the lyrical softness that the song begins with.
The set ended with a Jimi Hendrix cover and a new tune with many twists and turns called "Hurt Bird Bath," not "Dirty Sanchez," and they ended the second set in Bloomington with the same tune the next night.
Set 2 opened with "Its About That Time" which featured some fantastic trumpet work by Mad Dog from Ray's Music Exchange. This jam segued into another of Umphrey's softer tunes, "Anchor Drops." Then came the insanity that is "Der Bluten Kat." This instrumental got the crowd going nuts with its high-speed turns and mind numbing guitar work from Jake Cinninger and Brendan. I was standing right in front of Brendan when I looked to my left and saw Nick Blasky, Bass
player from Ray's, talking to Brendan. They invited him up on stage for a few Tenacious D covers, "Dio and Dianetics"(?), which made my stomach hurt from intense laughter. Blasky was the antithesis of Jack Black, singing the tunes with little to no emotion, while the boys in UM were fighting back the laughter.
The set then wound its way to "Jimmy Stewart," which is really an improvisational jam based on a random theme that the band decides on before the show. The slow soft sounds of Jimmy soon gave way to "All Things Ninja," an intense instrumental which contrasted the preceding tune with its hard pounding beat and intricate noodling. This jam segued into the Steely Dan favorite, "Hey Nineteen," shifting into a jazzy space for a very nice jam and then into "Kats Tune." They closed set 2 with the theme from Dukes of Hazzard, which featured a very nice jam by Jake who thrives on those old bluesy riffs. The encore was a short but sweet "Professor Wormbog" which sent everyone into the night with funk on the brain.
The next night in Bloomington was a completely different scene. Many more Umphreaks from Chicago, South Bend, Indy and parts unknown converged on the micropolis of Btown for a raging night of medulla splitting riff rock. The BlueBird was crowded but not as packed as I had seen it in the past, which gave me hope that there would be room to let my groove hang out. UM always loves to play for the Bloomington crowd and it showed in a big way.
They opened with "Blue Echo," a tune that conjures up feelings of being in deep space, floating thru the cosmos. This segued into "Roulette," a newer instrumental tune with Jazzy flavor. After a few more tunes they moved to the meat of the set, "Hajimemashite > Kabump > 40's Theme" featured painted an eclectic canvas of sound which covered so many genres I had trouble keeping up. The "40's Theme" jam racked my body with movement I didn't think was possible. A little reggae and a classic UM tune closed the set, which had
to be about 75 minutes long.
At set break all of the freaks converged on the alley behind the venue for a monumental sesh. The Bird gets very hot so it is essential to extract and reinsert if you need replenishment.
Set 2 started out with the UM nugget "August." This song holds a special place in the heart of many UM fans and I could see that people were looking up with huge smiles, soaking in the love emanating from the stage. Zappa's "Willie The Pimp" segued into my favorite UM song, "Kimble." This song fills me with hope and highlights the excellent piano stylings of Joel Cummins.
It was at this point that I noticed bassist Ryan Stasik was just going nuts on stage, jumping around, and smiling. He was also in top form trading licks with everyone while was supplying the bass line. "Ringo" is a reworked tune from Ali Baba's Tahini, Jake Cinninger's former band, and features a myriad of transitions from reggae to rock and back again.
After a little more Spinal Tap the band moved towards "Jimmy Stewart" and another improvisational expedition. This one featured flavors of "The End" and worked into a beautiful space before moving on to "Hangover." "Hangover" had the crowd participating with the chant, "Break out the booty wax, it's Saturday night!" and freaks were relishing in the grungy funk UM was expelling from the stage. Demento and I were yelling for "Garbage Man" but no luck.
Drummer Mike Mirro would dazzle us in other ways with his lyrical mastery in the Wings cover "Band on the Run." I guess all of the vocal work he has put in paid off because he nailed it. After the cover it was time to move to more serious vibrations. "Nothing Too Fancy" is a tune that brings some Ska like grooves directly in contact with the insane Zappa influenced twistyness that is the music of Umphrey's. They squeezed "Sweetness" in the middle of N2F and returned to the wonderful world of covers. I was hoping for a "Miss Gradenko" but they surprised me with another Police song, "When the World is Running
Down You Make the Best of What's Still Around." The show encor ed with the "Fuzz," a funkalistic etching with flavors of Dr. Dre and P Funk.
After this weekend I am feeling more and more like part of something special in the Midwest. The music and the community of fans that Umphrey's has cultivated in their time here has matured in ways I never dreamed of when I first started listening to them. I think the way to describe the family surrounding UM is selfless, always willing to spread the love that Umphrey's passes on to us in the way of music and friendship. Special thanks to Shane, Sloppy, Miss Nicole, Demento, Don, Sully and everyone from The Bort community for coming correct with the vibe, these shows would not have been the same without your energy. Also Kevin Browning on sound caressing duties and Adam Budney on illumination detail deserve some recognition for a flawless weekend of entertainment. Thanks again to Umphrey's McGee for a weekend that will never fade in my memory.
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