By Andy J. Gordon
Yes, another jamband review. Umphrey’s McGee, a band I had never seen before, gets lumped into this genre. There are many misconceptions that the name “jamband” produces. Many of the bands in this category are extremely talented, ranging from jazz to southern rock and bluegrass. The thing that they all share is a love for, and expertise in live improvisation. That certainly describes Umphrey’s McGee. As with most jambands, you don’t get their real vibe from their albums, but from seeing them live. So, it was with great anticipation that I hit the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip on March 17, 2011 to experience this Chicago based group that came out of the Midwest in the mid 90s.
These guys lean more to the prog-rock side of the jam scene (think bands like Zappa, Dream Theater, moe.) than the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers., and Widespread Panic vibe. The Umphrey’s McGee (www.umphreys.com/) band members met while studying music at Notre Dame and eventually made Chicago their home base. The original members (guitarist Brendan Bayliss, bassist Ryan Stasik, keyboardist Joel Cummins, and drummer Mike Mirro) were playing in various campus bands when they got together in December 1997. In 1999, the band released a live recording, titled Songs for Older Women, their first recording to feature percussionist Andy Farag. In 2000, the band became a sextet with the addition of guitarist Jake Cinninger. Mirro left the band to attend medical school and was replaced on New Year’s Eve 2002 by Kris Myers, who had a master’s degree in jazz drumming. This group has been touring together extensively ever since.
The House of Blues show featured exceptional musical precision. The band played songs from several of their recordings and threw in a few choice covers. The first set opened and closed with “Nothing Too Fancy” from their album Local Band Does Ok
, and “The Floor” segueing into “Sociable Jimmy,” two songs they released on earlier live recordings. Jake Cinninger and Brandan Bayliss displayed some versatile lead guitar licks, with Cinninger’s finger tapping on the fret board technique really wowing the crowd. The second set opened with “Ringo,” another song from Local Band Does Ok. Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic, who opened the gig, sat in on saxophone. The band segued into the first cover, the Who’s “Eminence Front.” Joel Cummins delivered the distinctive keyboard intro that culminated with a heart thumping bass and drum line from Ryan Stasik and Kris Myers respectively. They finished the second set with a few more tunes they previously recorded live, “Wappy Sprayberry,” “Bottom Half,” and “Slacker.”
The encore was kicked off with yet another song from Local Band Does Ok, “Glory.” A big surprise came when Andy Faraq and Brendan Bayliss did alternating vocals during “Regulate,” a tribute to the recently deceased rapper Nate Dogg. The band then launched into Michael McDonald’s first solo hit “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” with Kris Myers on vocals, to end things with an unusual bang. The band left the audience amazed at their musical precision, versatility, and energy. It was a great show and another example of just how diversely talented the bands in the jamband scene really are.
Photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon