CHICAGO’S PARK WEST TO FIVE-HOUR CONCERT
On most nights Umphrey’s McGee needs to balance satiating concert attendees who have never seen the band before, with casual fans as well as diehard Umphreaks. For UMBowl concerts that equation changes in a big way. The interactive rock show is presented for hardcore fans who either live in the band’s hometown of Chicago or fly in for the annual event. These fans get to vote on what UM plays or direct how they play it. Each of the football- themed concert’s four sets, or in UMBowl terminology: “quarters,” has a different theme and different way of involving the crowd.
Last night the sextet presented their fourth annual UMBowl concert at Chicago’s Park West and there were highlights around every corner for Umphreaks. The first set was the second- ever “Raw Stewage Quarter” in which UM weaved past “Jimmy Stewart” improvisations that received the most votes from fans into one seamless piece of music. Over the course of 57 minutes, the band showed off their range as they mixed potent arena rock progressions and slow throbbing grooves with plenty of “Lyrical Stews” from guitarist Brendan Bayliss thrown in for good measure. All in all, the past improvisations that were part of this year’s “Raw Stewage Quarter” were originally performed between 2003 (a version of “FDR” which was part of a show that was released as the Local Band Does Oklahoma EP) to a pair of jams first played at last September’s Red Rocks show.
The second set was the “All Request Quarter” and while the ballot Umphrey’s sent to attendees had many “special teams” options on which only certain members of the band would play on particular selections, fans eschewed these numbers for other choices. To start, UM debuted a cover of Metallica’s instrumental “Orion” from 1986’s Master Of Puppets LP. From there, the group dusted off “Cantina Band” from the first Star Wars movie, aka 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. “Cantina Band” had only been performed once previously, during UM’s New Year’s Eve concert on December 31st, 2000 at The Cubby Bear in Chicago. Winning selections weren’t limited to covers as the group then debuted a new original called “No Diablo” which was written by Bayliss for guitarist Jake Cinninger’s son Townes. Umphrey’s webmaster Jeremy Welsh accurately described the tune as having “a little bit of a Little Feat vibe, mixed with Randy Newman.” Another cover debut was upon us with the first-ever “Porch” by Pearl Jam, featuring Bayliss on vocals.
UM rarity “Bullhead City” is usually performed with a female vocalist, but last night Bayliss harmonized with Cinninger on the lead vocals. The guitarists each used acoustics for “Bullhead City” and kept them on for the next few songs, though Bayliss switched out his acoustic for a mandolin on a cover of “Hey, Hey What Can I Do” by Led Zeppelin. “2×2” was the first UM original staple of the evening, but the acoustics gave it a much different feel. For the all request finale, the sextet treated fans to an Abbey Road medley of “Mean Mr. Mustard” > “Polythene Pam” > “She Came In Through The Ballroom Window” > “Golden Slumbers” > “Carry That Weight.” Like the last few Umphrey’s versions of the medley, “The End” wasn’t performed on Friday night.
Outside of the music, Umphrey’s also incorporates pre-recorded vignettes featuring UM’s interpretation of classic movies. Past films portrayed were When Harry Met Sally and Almost Famous. This year the band delivered spot-on clips parodying Forrest Gump with keyboardist Joel Cummins as the slow-but-sweet Gump. Umphrey’s put their time on the road to good use by filming the bits across the country such as the scene in which Forest keeps running and running. We see Cummins do the turnabout at the Santa Monica Pier before he decides to stop running at a location that looks just like the spot in the movie where the same thing happened. These fun interludes broke up a night that was extremely heavy on in-your-face music.
A precursor to UMBowl was the Stew Art or S2 events which find the band sonically interpreting themes provided by fans via text message. Ever since the first UMBowl, a “Stew Art Quarter” has been a staple of the event. Over the years Stew Arts have become less frequent, making their appearance at UMBowl all the more special. UMBowl IV’s “Stew Art Quarter” saw Umphrey’s interpret such disparate themes as “Baby Makin’ Music,” “Sinister Evil Untz,” “Hillbilly Hoedown” and “Simply Ambient Bliss.” Included within was a partial cover of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s 1994 hit “Gin And Juice,” while “Tribal Drum Jam” found Cinninger, Cummins and Bayliss wailing away with Andy Farag on percussion as Kris Myers beat his drums and bassist Ryan Stasik added synth layers via Moog Taurus. “’70s Disco” gave LD Jefferson Waful a chance to shine by directing his lights at the venue’s disco ball and unique dome.
Many artists discourage the use of smartphones during concerts, but for UMBowl breaking out your device is encouraged. UM Inc. goes so far as to provide charging stations for fans. Not only are the phones needed for parts of the show like “Stew Art” texts, they also help ensure plenty of advertising of just how good a time attendees were having. If you’re friends with an Umphreak who went to the show, you’re probably already familiar with how their night went.
For the final set of UMBowl IV, the “Choose Your Own Adventure Quarter,” Umphrey’s allowed the crowd to influence the direction of the performance by presenting a number of options at various points. When UM took the stage, fans were able to choose the opener between “Puppet String,” “1348” and “Wappy Sprayberry.” The audience chose the latter in this instance and picked “Higgins” over “Eat” and “Lenny” as the second song of the set. As another example example, out of a delicious “Higgins” major-key jam, fans were given the choice between having the band segue into “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” or “Hangover.” The former won by a nose, so the band complied by working the “Higgins” jam (a highlight of the evening) into the instrumental “Miss Tinkle’s.”
A cover battle wasn’t so close as “Regulate” (Warren G.) handily beat “Miss Gradenko” (The Police) and “Rastaman Chant” (Bob Marley). Andy “Cousin Eli” Farag took center stage to rap with Bayliss on the Summer of ’94 smash. Next up was a matchup of original instrumental rarities which saw “Smell The Mitten” win out over “Kimble” and “Dear Lord.” Last weekend Umphrey’s debuted their cover of “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk a mere one day after the French disco kings put it out as a single. We didn’t have to wait long for the second version of what looks to be 2013’s “summer song,” since the Daft Punk cover whalloped UM originals “Roulette” and “Bad Poker” in fan voting. Finally, the audience chose for “Puppet String” to end Q4 over “1348.”
An insane five hours after Umphrey’s played their first notes of the evening, they returned for the encore, or as it’s referred to on UMBowl night – “Overtime.” Cummins, dressed in full Forrest Gump gear “ran” through the crowd and on to stage to join his band mates for one final cover debut. Fittingly, in line with the movie, Umphrey’s McGee finished the night with Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty.” Not only was it a wise choice as it related to Forrest Gump, but considering the amount of energy the group expended over the marathon show, it also referred to the band members emptying the tank to squeeze out one last surprise on an evening filled with them.
Quarter 1: FDR > unnamed > TQ Funeral > unnamed > Cut the Cable > unnamed > unnamed > unnamed
Quarter 2: Orion, Cantina Band, No Diablo, Porch, Bullhead City, Hey, Hey What Can I Do, 2×2, Mean Mr. Mustard > Polythene Pam > She Came In Through The Bathroom Window > Golden Slumbers > Carry That Weight
Quarter 3: Stew Art event
Quarter 4: Wappy Sprayberry > Higgins > Miss Tinkle’s Overture > Regulate > Smell the Mitten > Get Lucky > Puppet String
Overtime: Running on Empty
 debut, original; with vocals
 debut, original
 debut, Metallica
 with Imperial March (John Williams) teases
 debut, Pearl Jam
 Brendan and Jake on acoustics
 Brendan on mandolin and Jake on acoustic
 with Xxplosive (Dr. Dre) tease
 with In the Kitchen teases
 debut, Jackson Browne
first quarter was Raw Stewage, comprised of attendees’ votes for past “Jimmy Stewarts”: FDR 2003-04-23 > Der Bluten Kat 2005-10-19 > Utopian Fir 2006-06-09 > Making Flippy Floppy 2005-10-12 > Ringo 2011-11-05 > Puppet String 2012-09-14 > All In Time 2012-09-14 > Water 2008-11-18
second quarter was comprised of attendees’ votes, “All Request”
third quarter was a Stew Art event: Baby Making Music [with Jake lyrics, a la Michael McDonald] > Jazz/Metal Fusion > Sinister Evil Untz > Simply Ambient Bliss > Moogatize Us [with Jake on keys] > Gin and Juice [Snoop Dogg] > Beach Boogie > Bass n Drum + Joel > Warrior Marching Into Battle > Hillbilly Hoedown > Tribal Drum Jam [with Brendan, Jake, and Joel on percussion] > ’70s Disco [with lyrics]
Fourth quarter was in “choose your own adventure” style, with attendees voting for the next “adventure” live: Puppet String, 1348, or Wappy Sprayberry; Higgins, Eat, or Lenny; 40’s Theme, Miss Tinkle’s Overture, or Hangover; Regulate, Miss Gradenko, or Rastaman Chant; Kimble, Dear Lord, or Smell the Mitten; Roulette, Bad Poker, or Get Lucky; end of 1348, end of Puppet String, or end of Miss Tinkle’s Overture
[via All Things Umphreys]
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