By Benji Feldheim
What comes first, the audience or the band?
If a band hasn’t totally succumbed to mutant raging ego trips a’la The Black Crowes or Oasis, then chances are on some level they appreciate their fans. As they should, and yet how far do bands really go to show gratitude? More specifically, how much will a band and crew inconvenience themselves to say thanks?
The first UM Bowl was a fan appreciation dream where the band let theaudience decide all that was played. Umphrey’s McGee crammed their sizeable stage set up into the fairly intimate Lincoln Hall for the performance, with a capacity just over 500.
Some might say, “Fan appreciation, for $100 a ticket?” Sure. But other Chicago area shows played by the band over the last several years have been in venues with plenty more room, like The Vic can fit about 1300 attendees while there’s about 4,500 capacity at the Aragon Ballroom. If a ticket costs roughly $25 to $30 for such shows, the band could have probably made more money elsewhere, even with the cost of UM Bowl admission.
But enough of the business. UM Bowl was four quarters: fan-chosen electric and acoustic sets voted on before the show, a Stew Art set where attendees text different potential music themes and the band creates a jam based off the themes and a set where fans decide the direction the set will take next by texting in decisions posted up on a screen (such as ‘metal jam’ or actual song choices from their catalogue).
Throughout this week and next, we will feature a review of each quarter posted separately to cover the event.*
Quarter 1: Fan-voted acoustic set
This event had hype. A ton of it. While only a few hundred attendees were ticketed in, it was broadcast on iClips for hundreds, possibly thousands, of others to see and hear.
So when the power went out for the guitars and keyboards barely a few minutes into the “Front Porch/Resolution” opener of one of the most ambitious and strenuous undertakings the band has taken on in some time, it easily could have set the tone. But as far as I know, the only time this band quit was when some Napoleon-esque cop thought they were too loud at a Niles, Mich. Show in 2003 (http://www.umphreys.com/home/setlists.php?year=2003#show_id_663)
As crew members Bob Ston and Robbie Williams got to business restoring power for guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, as well as keyboardist Joel Cummins, the rest of the band moved forward.
Drummer Kris Myers, percussionist Andy Farag and bassist Ryan Stasik kept the many eyes and ears occupied with some undulating funk. Bayliss took the open musical space to sing “We don’t need no lines/we don’t need no electricity/ we got enough with our strings/but it’d be nice”
Once all engines were firing, the band continued with the bright reggae feel that was built out of the power drop, before returning to the sing along of “Porch.”
“It wouldn’t be an acoustic set without electricity,” Bayliss said a split second before the band launched into their first ever acoustic “Hurt Bird Bath.”
A song known for its sheer force, HBB didn’t lose a single bit of intensity or intricacy in its translation to acoustic guitars. With a medium level of tension and energy built from the initial jam, the band used the song’s middle and closing theme to dissolve into another first-ever play; the backwoods-appropriate clapper “Bron-A-Yur Stomp” oddly written by a bunch of Brits called Led Zeppelin.
With Myers leading the band on a quick speed-up, colored by a deep synth rumble from Cummins, “Hurt Bird Bath” returned for a fierce ending. It sounded as if the band picked up at an eerily similar dynamic point from when they veered off into “Bron-A-Yur.” After some minor flubbing, the syncopated hits in the middle were followed by a dark low-volume sound mélange, with Cinninger taking advantage of the Babicz guitar’s spoke-style bridge to make plinking sounds. The band then blazed forward raising the energy all the way to the end through the panning effect created by the guitars and keys mirroring each other. Cinniger and Bayliss pushed a lot of sound out of their guitars, and the drums and bass ever gradually pressed further down on the gas to the end.
Many have been waiting for “The Weight Around” to appear at a full on Umphrey’s show, since the gut-wrenching guitar and voice tune about trudging forward after heartbreak appeared on 2006’s Safety In Numbers. Given the pain that likely led to it being penned, it’s no surprise why it took a release of control like UM Bowl for it to be played. True to every subtle nuance on the album, down to the twanged slide guitar by Cinniger, the song was another reminder of Umphrey’s depth as musicians and songwriters beyond their electric trickery.
Stone Temple Pilots “Interstate Love Song,” just as true to the recording, and the first Umphrey’s song ever written, “Divisions” closed out the first quarter.
Photos by Joel Berk, for more photos from UMBOWL click here.
Front Porch > “Jimmy Stewart”^ > Front Porch, Hurt Bird Bath > Bron-Y-Aur Stomp$ > Hurt Bird Bath > The Weight Around*, Interstate Love Song$$ > Divisions
^ with lyrics; Brendan, Jake, and Joel lost power
$ first time played, Led Zeppelin
* first time played, original
$$ first time played, Stone Temple Pilots