Gallery & Review: Umphrey’s McGee @ Orbit Room | 2011
(Please allow us to introduce a new contributing member of the BTJ team, Victoria Zegler. Zegler is a student at CMU and recently worked with us documenting the Electric Forest Festival for Docufest: Music | Ambiance | Production.)
I have a confession to make: This is my first time seeing Umphreyâ€™s McGee live and I am now hooked. Once I was given the opportunity to capture the Chicago based jam band, I was interested to see what all the noise was about. Little did I know you donâ€™t go to an Umphreyâ€™s concert for the madness; you go to witness larger than life improvisation by an incredible group of musicians. When Umphreyâ€™s played the Orbit Room in Grand Rapids with guitar legend Adrian Belew in 2007 the bandÂ proved how much they had progressed, but this summer their return to the Midwest was all about mixing the old with the new.
The night kicked off with the stage bathed in gold light as Umphrey’s opened the first set with a â€œJazz Odysseyâ€ and bassist Ryan Stasik provided a solid starting point for the jam. After building the opening improv guitarist JakeÂ Cinninger peaked the jazz piece with aÂ massiveÂ soloÂ beforeÂ sliding into the relatively new “Hourglass.” Debuted at the most recent Summer Camp, â€œHourglassâ€ wasÂ carried by Cinninger as he fashioned heavy riffsÂ and wrappedÂ up with a solo very reminiscent of the late 60â€™s early 70â€™s.Â Next,Â Bayliss bellowed how great it was to be back in Grand Rapids before the crowd swooned over the first few notes of â€œWords.â€ As the song began to take off, Cinninger began plucking his strings like a Flamenco guitarist, which was rather interesting to hear on the electric.Â The riff began to slow down providing aÂ clean breakÂ as the band transitioned into a masterpiece of improv out of â€œSoulfood Iâ€ as Cinninger and Bayliss danced on stage playing off of each other a blend of jazz and funk before Cinninger sped up the bassline and the song transformed into â€œExample 1.â€Â Bayliss drove the jazzy riffs weavingÂ them in and outÂ Fleetwood Macâ€™s classic “Rhiannon.”Â Next, a dose of metal changed the pace with “Go to Hell,â€ before they wrapped up their first set with serene “Morning Song” leaving the crowd chilling in a warm glow.
Complete insanity ensued once the second set opened and Baylissâ€™ vocals flooded the tiny room with â€œFront Porch,â€ one of the band’s oldest songs. After slipping into another of the band’s instrumentals “Q-Bert,â€ Cinninger carried the group back into the progressive second section of â€œFront Porchâ€ masterfully squeezing notes out into the air causing the crowd to practically foam at the mouth. “Walletsworth” slowed down the set a bit, but what came next proved to be the highlight of the evening as they launched into Michael Jacksonâ€™s â€œBillie Jean.â€ A phenomenal light show stretched across the stage penetrating the jam-packed venue with vibrant colors as Stasik, Cinninger and Bayliss each emulating Jackson, put onÂ multicolorÂ LED lightshowÂ gloves, ready to create something unique as their illuminated fingertips began to pluck away. In the first half of â€œBillie Jeanâ€, Bayliss was joined by keyboardist Joel Cummins, Cinninger and drummer Kris Myers as they harmonized each note of the Jackson classic perfectly. Before taking it into the jam, Myers established a beat while Stasik created the riffs and Cinninger joined in on the funky melodic bass grooves as the song thickened the texture. Growing with intensity, one could see all six of the musicians spawning a masterful dance improvisation. Towards the end of the 14-minute jam Cummins provided a swift solo before smoothly seguewaying into â€œSearch 4.â€
â€œGet In the Vanâ€ was followed by “Gulf Stream” but the set slammed to a close with “Pay the Snucka (part III),” which was left unfinished from the bands Red Rockâ€™s show a few days prior. Hundreds of rock hands filled the Orbit Room as the band concluded with â€œPartyin’ Peepsâ€ as the crowd overpowered the music, bringing the night to a resounding close. From start to finish Umphreyâ€™s McGee were both fierce and unpredictable, constantly knocking my pulse in and out of its groove with their ability to adapt and to change. I have never seen a band take so many different styles of music and form something new. It is so fascinating to see a band take so many chances on a nightly basis to create such a unique experience. I cannot wait until the next time I get to witness more of this bands creative risk taking.
Jazz Odyssey > Hourglass, Words, Soul Food I > Example 1*, Go to Hell, Morning Song
Front Porch > Q*Bert > Front Porch, Walletsworth, Billie Jean > Search 4, Wellwishers, Get In the Van, Gulf Stream > Pay the Snucka (part III)
* with Rhiannon jam