The tickets for this past Saturday's Umphrey's McGee show proclaimed it to be the Ultimate St. Patrick's Day Jam, and that was proved to be the case, long before the show even started. After all, for the first time ever, Umphrey's McGee was set to headline the Morris Performing Arts Center, a magnificent, beautifully renovated theather in the heart of that massive midwestern metropolis known as South Bend, Indiana.
In 1998, the City of South Bend (apparently known to some insiders as
"South Bend City") began a $14 million dollar renovation process, which was completed just last year. The results of this expenditure are simply stunning--the Center's website claims that it "is
the only venue of its caliber between Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis". I would go so far as to extend those borders a few hundred miles in each direction.
This show was significant for other obvious reasons as well, namely because it was the band's biggest show ever, on St. Patrick's day, and in their hometown of South Bend, which also happens to be the home of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Needless to say, the stage was set for a historic performance, and the band saw to it that the Ultimate St. Patrick's Day Jam would happen in that very theatre, the Morris Performing Arts Center.
Shortly after 8pm the band took the stage and, as has been recent practice, began the show with various sounds eminating from moogs, guitars and keyboards. This collage of sound soon gave way to the upbeat intro of "Nothing Too Fancy," a Jake Cinninger original that has recently been added to the band's rotation. This is a fast-moving instrumental that worked perfectly in the opening slot--I hope to hear it there again. Just as the pace of the song picked up, so did the light show, skillfully engineered by UM's own lightman, Adam Budney. On this night, Budney had a substantial light rig to work with, not to mention *2* computer monitors in his console. I requested that he post the setlist to the internet as the show progressed, but he insisted that the computers did not have internet
access. In any case, "Nothing Too Fancy" traversed various jazz/funk/rock sounds, surely captivating the audience of about 800, which was "all-ages" in the truest sense of the term--it included everyone from toddlers and teenagers to parents and grandparents of the band and crew. "Nothing Too Fancy" segued quite nicely into "2 x 2," a UM original which really merits its own review altogether. This version was stellar as usual.
As "2 x 2" ended, guitarist Brendan Bayliss welcomed a guest horn section up to the stage, consisting of Josh Quinlan on alto sax and Nate Walcott on the trumpet. The horn section was a frequent on-stage guest of the band during 2000, but this was the first real appearance of "the" horn section in 2001. The horn section is a treat for at least 2 reasons, the first being that it allows the band the opportunity to rip through some fun jazz/funk standards--on this nite they did Paul Simon's "Late In The Evening" (which, I suppose, is not really jazz nor funk per se) followed by "The Chicken." Secondly, the band usually selects a few of their own originals and writes horn parts for these songs, specifically for that particular show. The band did just this tonite, first with "Professor
Wormbog," a Cinninger instrumental which was a treat to hear with the added horn parts.
"Andy's Last Beer" followed the horn section's first appearance of the
night. The "trick clapping" portion of this song was led by the band, with the entire audience following along very nicely, thanks to the band's helpful visual cues and Budney's clutch lighting. After this song finished, Brendan and Jake put down their electric guitars and picked up their acoustics. As they stepped aside to tune up, and the rest of the band left the stage, only Ryan "Pony" Stasik and his bass remained. Stasik then launched into a much-heralded bass solo. For many fans in attendance, this segment was the highlight of the night. His solo ranged from delicate to intricate to funk, and even included a take on "America The Beautiful." Needless to say, the audience listened in stunned silence, occasionally bursting into applause between themes. When it was over, there was thunderous applause which was truly heartwarming. Over the years now, he's
surely played short bass solos here and there to much whooping and
hollering, but only recently has the band left him alone on stage to truly exhibit his *art*.
More treats were just around the corner, though, namely the acoustic
mini-set that followed Stasik's bass solo. This was only the second time that the band has ever played acoustically. They began the mini-set with "Uncle Walley," an acoustic original that debuted just a month earlier. This is simply a great little song that is a real treat to hear. It segued nicely into the Jimmy Page acoustic composition, "Bron-Yr-Aur." Again, this type of sound is new to the UM stage, and I for one hope that it continues to make appearances on special occasions. Jake and Brendan shared this song while the rest of the band took a breather. The first set ended with a great rendition of the Doobie Brothers' classic, "Black
Water." What I found most memorable about this song is how good the band's vocals have been sounding lately.
As the band took the stage for the second set, they were again accompanied by the horn section. "Prowler" was first, another great set opener made even better thanks to the horns. It segued into "The Fuzz" which is a relatively new song, also getting its first horns treatment. The band continued to showcase newer material with "Mullet Over," which I consider to be somewhat of a bluegrass tour de force, although I do not listen to much bluegrass.
Next was "2nd Self" which went into the rarely-played "Raymond." As has been recent practice, "Raymond" gave way to an extended drums segment. Thankfully, Umphrey's McGee avoids the "let's play drums as loud and as fast as we can approach to drums solos, opting instead for meaningful percussion passages. During this solo, while percussionist Andy Farag kept the beat on his kit, drummer Mike Mirro and guitartist/percussionist Jake Cinninger stepped to the front of the stage, set up a single snare drum, and played a complex snare section by following along to sheet music on a music stand. When that ended, they returned to their respective spots and brought the drums segment to a sudden and dramatic finish.
"Example 1" followed, and then "Space Funk Booty." The epic UM nugget
"August" followed this pair. This song featured the band making a true foray into Irish music, by quoting an Irish jig, complete with Mirro dancing. What was also remarkable about this version of "August" is the fact that after the Irish jig, the band played parts of the original ending to this song, which itself hasn't been played in perhaps a year and a half. That put a smile on the faces of many of the band's older fans who were in attendance. It is good to know that, though in just their 4th year of playing together, the band recognizes their own history by quoting some of their earlier compositions that aren't played in full any longer. Fans certainly appreciate hearing these snippets as well.
"Last Man Swerving" followed "August." Tonite represented this tune's
debut, complete with horns. Parts of this song were recognizable from
various jams of recent shows--it was now nice to hear these various ideas compiled into a new song. The song itself is a funky number, somewhat along the lines of "The Fuzz." It's got a grinding funk riff that will surely catch on with fans in short order. The second set ended with another nod to the band's South Bend legacy--"All In Time," a song that has been in the band's rotation since day one. It was a perfect end to two exciting sets of music for the attentive and enthusiastic crowd on hand.
As the band left the stage, it quickly became apparent that the crowd would not let the night end at that point. Rather, in response to the crowd's overwhelming applause, the band came back out, thanked the audience, and started into "40's Theme," perhaps Jake Cinninger's best contribution to the band's ever-growing rotation. This was an intense version as usual, fortunately providing the band with an opportunity to flat-out *rock*. It was a perfect conclusion to an epic night in South Bend.
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Umphrey's McGee | 3.17.01
The Morris Performing Arts Center | South Bend, IN
Set I: Nothing Too Fancy > 2 x 2, Professor Wormbog*, Late In the Evening*, Chicken*, Andy's Last Beer, Bass Solo, Uncle Walley** > Bron-Yr-Aur**, Black Water***
Set II: Prowler* > The Fuzz*, Mullet Over, 2nd Self > Raymond > Drums#, Example 1 > Space Funk Booty, August%, Last Man Swerving^, All In Time
E: 40's Theme
*w/Josh Quinlan on alto sax and Nate Walcott on trumpet
**w/Jake & Brendan on acoustics
***Doobie Brothers tune, 1st time played w/acoustics
#w/extended snare drum section with Jake and Mike
%with Irish Jig and part of original ending
^new original, w/horns