PASSING THE TORCH: UM DRUMMER'S FIRST SHOW

01.23.03 - The Buskirk Chumley Theater, Bloomington, Indiana

As we pass through life friends move in and out of it like cars passing through an intersection. Over the New Year Umphrey's McGee said goodbye to an old friend and welcomed in a new one as their old drummer Mike Mirro made the tough decision to leave the band to pursue a career in medicine. With the change comes a big challenge for a band that is still trying to prove themselves to a sometimes-unforgiving audience.


Kris Myers prepping for his first show

Kris Myers, formerly of the Jazz Fusion band Kick the Cat in Chicago, has assumed the role of drummer in Umphrey's and now looks ahead at the daunting task of learning a large number of very complex tunes in a short period of time. The band was impressed with Myers right away when he came to jam with them in late November and it was announced in mid December that of the hundreds of applicants who submitted resumes that Myers had been chosen.

I caught up with Kris at his first gig with the band in Bloomington, a town that is famous for producing memorable Umphrey's performances, and got a chance to ask him a few questions about his acclimation to the new musical climate.

AK: How did you hear about the auditions?

KM: A close friend told me this great band in town was looking for a drummer and he thought I'd be perfect for the gig?

AK: Were you surprised when they told you that you got the job?

KM: I was sure they were impressed but I didn't know their interest was that high. So yes and no.

How difficult has the transition from Jazz Fusion to a more Progressive Rock style?:

Not really difficult at all. We don't really play a lot of Jazz but the music contains a lot of Jazz elements like progressive meter and rhythm changes coupled with the fusion concept I am used to. I am used to long improvised jams, which is what we have been doing in rehearsal.

Have you been able to dazzle the band in rehearsals yet?

A couple of times, yeah. I am good at running against the meter and using rhythmic illusions. They comment on how fast my right hand is and I tend to carry a big backbeat.

Have you embarked on any Jazz Odysseys with the band yet?

We have been trying one per rehearsal at anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. It is going well but it is going to take a while to learn how everyone operates in the improvisational environment.

Do you have a vision for the future of Umphrey's McGee?

Honestly, I haven't thought too deeply about the future, I really haven't had the time. I am trying to focus on learning how everyone plays together and am concentrating on fitting in with them. I guess I hope we continue to be progressive, aggressive, energetic, just goin' for it.

As Adam Budney (lighting designer) faded the house lights and the band trickled out on stage I couldn't help but feel that we were witnessing the start of a new era for Umphrey's McGee. Backstage before the show there was a sort of nervous energy fueling the vibe. The band was confident they had made the right choice but you don't really know for sure until you put it on display for the public to see, and they knew they were about to put it to the test.

The opening jam was dark and disjointed until Myers firmed up the music with his adept backbeat. Ryan Stasik (bass), had a huge smile plastered on his face, a telling sign that things were rolling. About six minutes into the opening jam they dropped into "Der Bluten Kat," a song with a complicated drum intro. Kris nailed this like he had been playing with the band for years. The crowd, who for the most part were probably unaware of the lineup change, erupted at the outset of the intense intro and the show was away without a hitch. Twenty minutes later the song ended to a roar from the crowd and a few words from Brendan Bayliss (guitar) giving props to Kris on a stellar opening jam. "The Fuzz" was up next showcasing Kris funk drumming and they segued into "Dump City." Once again it was hard to tell Kris had only been on the job for 3 weeks as he nailed the complex changes and time signatures that Umphrey's McGee is known for.
"Jajunk," a song that demands synchronization, was performed flawlessly with its jerky motions and fast paced picking. Kris's bass drum was taking a pounding as the double kicker rocked the towering ceiling of the Buskirk. The segue into the "Front Porch" jam was light and airy and gave way to "Resolution" with no visible lines. The set concluded with the homage to 80's metal, "Pay the Snucka III," and launched the crowd into a head banging frenzy as Jake Cinninger tore his guitar to shreds.


The New Crew of Umphrey's McGee

The second set opened with the complex orchestration "Prowler" and into "Syncopated Strangers." At this point Kris began to lay down some very high paced soloing, utilizing many of the trinkets on his set and the band flowed into what I would describe as a techno jam. It seemed as though Kris was steering the jam in different directions with his choice of beats. You could really hear the band interplay at this point as we witnessed some of the best live improvisation I have ever seen from Umphrey's. You could tell they were really concentrating hard at crafting a sweet "Stewart" [Stewart refers to the section of the show where the band freely improvises for an extended period of time leading to a seque into another song; named after "Jimmy Stewart."] and it was showing. Myers's hi-hat was on time and Stasik complemented his prowess by playing lots of notes running up and down the scale - great synergy at this point in the show. The jam moved into a more ambient space and melded into the electronic sounds of the "Triple Wide." "Push the Pig" and "Walking on the Moon" were fairly standard, then after a short drum jam with Jake and Andy, the band left the stage as Kris launched into a 10-minute drum solo. I have never seen a drum solo with so much intensity and concentration. I was really into what he was trying to do. The crowd went wild as he drove the solo to a climax.

The band filtered back on stage and moved right into a smoking "Ringo." This had to be the best tune of the night; it was dripping with energy as they passed through the spacey midsection of the song and flowed right into "Smell the Mitten." After Mitten came "Andy's Last Beer" and the set closed with a very weak showing from the crowd on the synchronized clapping section - Thursday night in B-town doesn't surprise me at all.

The encore was uplifting with a "Utopian Fir/Family Feud Theme" sandwich. I am a big fan of "Utopian Fir" and its many varying components, especially the reggae section at the end. I thought this was an ample encore but the band thought differently as they improvised their way into a "Disco Dancin'" jam and directly into "Uncommon" to close the show.

As the show ended I reflected on the band as it was before 2003 and looked forward to a vision of its future, and it was bright. I have nothing but high hopes and expectations for this band as they continue to dazzle crowds with their new lineup.

01.23.03 - The Buskirk Chumley Theater, Bloomington, Indiana
Set One: Jam > Der Bluten Kat, The Fuzz > Dump City, JaJunk > Front Port jam > jam > Resolution > Pay the Snucka (part III)
Set Two: Prowler > Syncopated Strangers > "Jimmy Stewart" > The Triple Wide > Push the Pig, Walking on the Moon > Drums^, Ringo > Smell the Mitten > Andy's Last Beer
Encore: Utopian Fir > Family Feud theme > Utopian Fir > Uncommon
Notes:
- first show with Kris Myers as member of Umphrey's McGee
- ^ with Jake on kit with Kris before moving to timbales; then, Kris was left alone on stage

You can download Kris Myers's first show with Umphrey's McGee
in shn format through the Furthur Network.

Andrew Kaplan
JamBase | Midwest
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[Published on: 1/31/03]

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