Umphrey's McGee: A Garden of Genres

Article Contributed by Tara Gracer | Published on Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Since the release of both their sophisticated Similar Skin album in 2014 and the elegant bonus album, London Sessions, which was produced at Abbey Road of last year, Umphrey’s McGee has begun to more frequently perform at up-scale venues across the Midwest. Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is among one of these venues. It was the band’s third time appearing. The intimate and limited seating of the location led to a sold out show. The audience lined up promptly outside the venue with their lawn chairs and stocked coolers to grab the best views at the Gardens with copious amounts of green surrounding them. The band was more than eager to start the night off right. The event was soon to stand out as the best show of the weekend due to the immense diversity of genres and the band’s precise execution of each song and jam within.

The show quickly begun at a bright summer early hour, atypical for most Umphrey’s fans, with a fast bluegrass number, Mullet (Over) that got the crowd dancing and jumping all around the lawn. At the end of the song No Diablo, a pop tune, Umphrey’s covered a segment from The Fish by Yes, which included all the members. The band’s tone softened up into a graceful End of the Road. A southern rock classic by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Southern Cross, featured Brendan Bayliss on acoustic guitar. They moved into another fast paced heavy country style tune, Phil’s Farm, which was introduced by Brendan Bayliss as a song written right near South Bend, Indiana and contained a lengthy jam rock section well worth a listen because of Andy Farag’s additional percussion finesse. FF, a reggae song, developed a deep space jam and segued into Resolution that incorporated a special Jimmy Stewart with lyrics. A Jimmy Stewart is a special musical selection that was once a jam and then sometimes layered with lyrics to be developed into a future potential song. Not every Jimmy Stewart contains lyrics; they can be entirely instrumental. The first set closer, Booth Love, was a funky, get down with it number that cooled everyone before the intensity of the next set.

The second set was devoted to heavy rock and roll, which started with an instrumental called Go to Hell. Remind Me, composed for Umphrey’s Umbowl XI unique event on May 1st, 2015, was next and followed by a straight through rocking Cut the Cable. Kris Myers sampled an intro beat on the electric drums as the rest of the band used their classically trained background to entertain the crowd by playing Gents, which featured a strong metal riff with repetitive high-pitched piano keys played by Joel Cummins. After a funky jam and Jake Cinninger’s lounge jazz guitar solo within Gents, the band went right into the ending segment of Pay the Snucka which brought some confusion among Umphreys’ fans whether or not the song was played in its entirety beforehand. Finally the sun had set and the sky was dark enough for the band to play Wappy Sprayberry and to allow their light designer, Jefferson Waful, to show his master skills of setting the mood. The Wappy Sprayberry dancy jam featured wavy melodic rhythms of psychedelic rock from Brendan Bayliss on guitar with support from Joel Cummins on the synths. Robot World was slightly jammed and transitioned into Miami Virtue, which contained a catchy reiterated scale solo by Jake Cinninger.

The crowd was screaming their usual chant, “We want the umph, gotta have that umph!” as soon as the band walked off the stage to prep for their two-song encore. The band proudly walked on stage as they were greeted with screams and shouts acknowledging their outstanding rock show. As Umphrey’s began to cover Rock the Casbah by The Clash, the audience chimed in and sang along. A patriotic, hope-instilling Glory closed the show for the night. Although the show ended quite early, approximately 9:30 pm, old and new fans rejoiced with excitement about the performance.

As Ryan Stasik on the bass commented about music diversity, this show was absolutely an exceptional example of Umphrey’s vast repertoire. Their ability to smoothly alternate genres between songs and even within demonstrates their talents as modern musicians and composers. They will continue to thrill their audiences if they keep revealing their expertise in all genres of music. Their next classy venue show is right across the big pond at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois on Friday August 14th that will feature the Chicago Mass Choir, but they will also be back to Rochester Hills, Michigan at Meadow Brook Music Festival on Saturday August 15th with the band, Lettuce, as an opener.

Check out more photos from the show.