The only show that I had seen at the Park West Theatre in Chicago was when The Disco Biscuits turned this amazing venue into a digitized dance hall party. Needless to say I was very excited to catch the debut of Umphrey’s McGee. If you haven’t seen a show at The Park West, or an Umphrey’s show for that matter, I highly recommend the experience.

The first set began with an eerie collection of sound effects that gave the Park West a creepy Halloween vibe… then the opening licks of ‘Thin Air’ began. This opener gave a hint of things to come with Umphrey’s new guitarist Jake Cinninger letting loose on his Moog effects (hmmm…R2D2), and Joel Cummins’ physically rocking his keyboard stand during an extended jam. ‘Thin Air’ concluded with a static building crescendo that led into the very danceable ‘Sweetness’. ‘Sweetness’ is an “instrumental passage” (BB) which showcased the first appearance of light man Adam Budney on the Techno-Beams. The light work by Adam proved to be a celestial compliment to the music throughout the evening. The end of ‘Sweetness’ dove head first into the shallow end of ‘Phil’s Farm’ that featured a heightened tempo at the outset of the composed section, which was followed by the second monumental jam of the set. During the ‘Phil’s’ jam Michel Mirro and Andrew Farag laid out a polyrhythmic beat on drums and percussion respectively, which led into an overlapping, note dropping crescendo, and closed with the signature funky piano breakdown.

By the time the transition into ‘Out of Order’ began the Park West appeared to be a futuristic dance hall scene. ‘Out of Orddr’ is a fairly new song that encompasses several tempo changes, and provides more opportunity for booty-shakin’ Umphrey’s style! ‘OoO’ dropped directly into a bouncy reggae rhythm that made me think it was Marley time, but to my surprise Jake began singing the Beatles classic ‘She Came In Through the Bathroom Window’. All I can say about this tune is that Reggae/Beatles fusion makes many people smile. ‘All Things Ninja’ is an Umphrey’s standard that was played with a short, yet morphing jam. ‘Divisions’, definitely a favorite tune of many Umphreaks in the building, came out of the cake like a schizophrenic stripper at Charlie Shean’s bachelor party (don’t ask). This song began after around ninety seconds of ambient jamming, and I believe that this was the sickest ‘Divisions’ that I have yet to hear. A monster jam encompassed several styles while maintaing a distinctive edge… dark and driving and transcending classification. A surreal ‘Q*Bert’ jam maintained the stylistic undertones laid out in ‘Divisions’, and ended with Brendan Bayliss’ brief statement of appreciation to the capacity crowd. ‘Space Funk Bitch’ started with its usual evil funk-styled groove and built into a jam which was highlighted by tight interchangable licks between bassist Ryan Stasik and keyboardist Joel Cummins. The first set closed with the party favorite… ‘Front Porch’. This was one of the first songs that turned me onto UM… Brendan’s lyrics in this song are sure to hit home with any head who lived in his/her local student ghetto. ‘FP’ worked its familiar slide into ‘Waterfalls’, and ended in with a driving rock and roll jam.

The second set started with a raging ‘DBK’ that featured the band playing the opening arrangement with more intensity and power than I have ever seen or heard. An exploratory jam that encompasses funk/jazz fusion leading into a heavy breakdown… this version is a must hear for any Umphrey’s fan. ‘DBK’ flowed sucinctly into Led Zeppelin’s ‘Fool In the Rain’. This ‘Fool’ involved some trading of guitar licks by Brendan and Jake that sent chills down my spine, and kicked off another extended jam featuring all six members playing together seamlessly. Friend of the band and solid sax player Josh Quinlan (formerly of Ray’s Music Exchange) stepped on stage near the end of ‘Fool’ and joined on a jazz infected ‘Mamu’. With Josh on the stage the second set became a jazz fusion-fest that was highlighted by the Miles Davis classics ‘In A Silent Way’ and ‘It’s About That Time’. These two cuts are from the Miles album “In A Silent Way”, and on that album, the smooth title track serves as the sandwich around the faster number ‘It’s About That Time’ (JAJ). In this set ‘It’s About That Time’ ended the cover session by fading into the melodic soundscape of a stirring ‘Andy’s Last Beer’. This was booty shakin’ at its finest… with Josh and Joel throwing some serious stones into the pond. After ‘Andy’s’, Brendan explained that Josh had practiced with the band since Tuesday, and “it looks like he’s learned the songs”. A new song by Jake titled ‘Professor Wormbog’ was completed with Josh and then Brendan led Umphrey’s into three of its signature songs. A well played ‘Prowler’, spicy rhythms on a sour groove, found itself building into a well executed ‘2 X 2’. This ‘2 X 2’ showcases another extensive jam that featured the band’s signature time/tempo changes, and an amazing climax. The last song of the night was the crowd favorite ‘Fussy Dutchman’. A series of crescendo’s and de crescendo’s by Brendan and Joel created a sound that can be described as cyclical (a musical circle), and a groove laden jam soon followed. The show ended with the ‘Dutchman’ leading back into ‘Fool In the Rain’, and the crowd responded with reveling yells and shouts.

Thanks Umphrey’s McGee!!!

Written by Zach with help from Joe, Rich, JAJ, Eric, and Vince.

Setlist: Umphrey’s McGee at the Park West - 10/06/00

I. Thin Air > Sweetness > Phil's Farm > Out Of Order > She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, All Things Ninja, Divisions, Q*Bert, Space Funk Bitch, Front Porch

II. DerBlutenKat > Fool In The Rain > Mamu* > In A Silent Way* > It's About That Time*, Andy's Last Beer*, Prowler > 2x2, The Fussy Dutchman > Fool In The Rain

*With Josh Quinlan on Alto Saxophone

[Published on: 10/18/00]

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