Getting to Seattle from San Francisco and Minneapolis to see Umphrey’s McGee at the Showbox on Thursday turned out to be a true test. Missed trains, delayed flights, rush hour traffic, even a near traffic ticket (and then some) were the battles we faced as we travelled hundreds of miles to get our fix. However, we were not alone in our pilgrimage as many other Umphreaks donned Chicago (and other hometown) jerseys to show off the extent of their own multi-thousand mile journey to be a part of the 2009 West Coast Tour. This is a part of the Umphrey’s mystique. ‘Get in the Van,’ the name of one of their original compositions is a nod to this tradition of Midwest kids packing soccer mom mini-vans to capacity to shuttle blossoming Umphreaks hours to obscure, out- of-the-way destinations to see their favorite band.
Umphrey’s McGee, of Chicago, is a progressive rock sextet featuring the blazing guitar theatrics of duo Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss, and the rhythmic blending of Ryan Stasik on the bass, jazz drumming virtuouso Kris Myers on the drumset, Andy Farag manning a collection of almost every other percussion insrument available and the ever classy Joel Cummings giving poetic justice to piano, organ and seemingly everything else with keys. After over a decade together, Umphrey’s is renowned throughout the jam scene for their nightly flawless performances from a catalogue of intricately composed songs and of course the jams and segues between the lines of the compositions whose themes know no musical boundaries. It is not uncommon to hear, perhaps, a jazz theme progress into metal, techno or funk, shifting momentums as quickly as they are gained.
It's been a year since Umphrey's graced Seattle with their explosive presence but tonight the fans were out in force and ready for the return. Some of the more local Umphreaks explain that their extended time between shows is due to the fact that “the band hates the West Coast”, but based on what they laid down the packed crowd at the Showbox you'd never guess it. The show opened with a mellow rendition of Higgins (one of the band's reggae based tunes) with an extended guitar jam sandwiched inside. The crowd's response was as much a show of gratitude as it was an omen of the momentous evening which lay ahead. Following was the opening track of their 2009 release “Mantis”: Made To Measure. This syncopated folk melody has become a personal favorite over the past few months and, on this night, flowed uninterrupted right into Resolution, whose intro riff is an aggressive reworking of the Beatles' Norwegian Wood. Another long jam was tucked into the middle of Resolution, setting the stage for what was to come next.
I must say that In The Kitchen is the song that got me into Umphrey's in the first place. Up until earlier this year I had been chasing it for quite some time and I still relish any opportunity to soak in a new one. We were treated to quite a doozy in Seattle, as this one was split up by a raging "Jimmy Stewart." A Jimmy Stewart (stew) is the name used by the band to refer to the multi-sectioned, semi-structured improv sessions that occur a couple times each night. The In The Kitchen "stew" was of a persuasion that Umphreaks recognize as a Dance Party, complete with bumping E-drums provided by drummer Kris Meyers. Once the "stew" meandered its way back home into the Kitchen again, the band launched into another “Mantis” track called Turn And Run whose jam section included a distinguished cameo of Radiohead tune Meeting In The Aisle showing off Umphrey's versatility as well as their varied influences. Finally, as the first set drew to a close, the Rock Show took off with Wizard Burial Ground, an arching metal opus every bit as sinister as its name suggests. After an turbo-charged finish, Bayliss urged everyone to drink some water in preparation for the next set. They were just getting warmed up.
The second set started with blazes as hot as the molten core of Mount St. Helen as the boys swept through Prowler, a decidedly latin feeling number followed by the anthemic All in Time book-ending the heavy rocker The Floor and the misnomered guitar marathon Nothing Too Fancy. As was fitting to our misadventures in even getting to the show, the next song was another notable anthem (which rings a little too close to home as it is): Slacker. The set was highlighted nicely by their immaculate rendition of The Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling before crashing back to earth in the funk dance party of 40’s Theme (and yes, 40’s is referring to the size of a beverage [or two]) which was stretched out nicely into a jam before hitting its pinnacle with a massive solo by Bayliss to end the set. After only a few minutes back stage, they returned to power through Plunger, off of their 2004 release “Anchor Drops,” featuring an extended jam that led to a momentary Nothing Too Fancy reprise to end the show with a bang.
Tomorrow, the Umphrey’s McGee traveling circus finds it’s way to Eugene Oregon where we will cover another amazing night of musical splendor at the McDonald Theatre. To find out when they are coming to your town go to: www.umphreys.com. We didn’t ‘Get in the Van’ for this show per se, but we got on the train, got on the plane, got in the car and, once again, the payoff was worth every second. Welcome to the 2009 West Coast Tour.
Set One Higgins, Made to Measure > Resolution* > In the Kitchen, Turn and Run > Meeting In the Aisle > Turn and Run, Wizard Burial Ground Set Two Prowler > All In Time > The Floor, Nothing Too Fancy > All In Time > Slacker, I've Got A Feeling > 40's Theme Encore Plunger > Nothing Too Fancy**
Notes Iration opened * with Norwegian Wood jam ** with Rhiannon teases