Umphrey’s McGee pulls out all the stops for their live shows. Be it a special S2 set, performing at the Mayan Ruins, or giving out free flash drives at shows with that night’s soundboard, the Chicago-based jam sextet has forged a strong relationship with their fans through creative promotion and interaction. Communicating with fans and giving them exactly what they want is the premise of Umphrey’s McGee Bowl, or UMBowl. Back for its second year, the UMBowl II event promised everything an UM fan would want- a great venue, intimate crowd, and input on what jams the band would play. The result was nearly 5 hours of fan-driven music spread across four quarters.
The first quarter, which was themed “Choose Your Own Adventure,” asked fans to vote with their phones on choices TVs and projected on screens. The first choice fans made was “New Intro>Improv”, (of course they would choose the “Improv” option over any composed choices). Brendan Bayliss showed off his Espanol on a Spanish rendition of the UM classic “In the Kitchen,” (or “En la Cocina”) and though the jam didn’t have a Latin sound to it, it was still hot and spicy. The band got to get synth-happy when fans voted for a cover of Chromeo’s “Bonafide Lovin’ ” and then a “Daft Punk-esque Jam” during which the band teased “Television Rules the Nation” . The first quarter ended with a special treat for the returning vets of last years UMBowl, as the band finished the “All In Time” that was played incompletely at UMBowl I.
Quarter two was what Umphreys calls a “Stew Art Set”, or an S2. Fans submit phrases, ideas, and instructions to conduct the band as they jam through the set. Former UM sound man Kevin Browning, who was back behind the board for the hometown show, sorted through the texts (gathered via UM’s Mozes interface, which they use to text fans) and projected them onto the screens. Suggestions included “Bring the Funk”, “Heavy Metal Dance Party”, and “Moog Cocktail”. Highlights of the set were a classical-style “Regulate”, the peak in “Soaring Uplifting Jam”, and the slightly corny but too funny not to love “Take Us To Church” jam. The S2 set ended at over 45 minutes of straight jamming. The band’s playing was on but there was some debate over the legitimacy of the voting. Some of the suggestions seemed too vanilla, such as “Bring the Funk”, “Soaring Uplifting Jam”, and “Ambient Jam”. Also, the screen didn’t show everyone’s suggestions, only the one’s chosen by Browning, so there was no way of knowing if your suggestion was even considered. Regardless, the end of the second quarter was the end of the cell phone voting phase of the bowl, as well as any accompanying skepticism.
The band members got to show off their multiple talents, switching instruments for a variety of covers and originals in the third quarter, or “Special Teams”. The quarter opened with a solo by keyboard player Joel Cummins covering Muse’s “Ruled By Secrecy”. Bayliss got on the piano to play a sentimental solo he had finished the night before, “Bus Call”. “Going to California” was nothing short of beautiful with Jake Cinninger on acoustic guitar and Bayliss on mandolin. After a great ambient jam, Cinninger and bassist Ryan Stasik got down, improvising through a new, untitled jam before being joined by percussionist Andy Farag for “Heard It Through The Grapevine”. The jam in “Great American” was on fire, with some incredible shredding by Cinninger, but the next song was the highlight of the set. For the first time in over four years they busted out crowd favorite “Big Bottom”, originally by Spinal Tap. The song featured Joel on keytar, Kris Myers on drums, and everyone else on bass guitar. The instrumentation got even wilder on “Zeros and Ones” with Stasik on an iPhone and percussionist Andy Farag on a sample pad.
Former Umphrey’s McGee drummer Mike Mirro took the stage with the original UM line-up for “Much Obliged” and stayed on percussion as Cinninger and Myers joined in for an awesome “In Violation of Yes”, closing Q3.
The All Request fourth quarter was the climax of the show, with the band performing songs chosen by ticket holders online before the show. The custom set list included a bluegrass rendition of Nothing Too Fancy, and a jammed out Divisions > Glory > Divisions. After showing off their classical chops in Q1, Umph took another take on it in Q4 with “Fifth of Beethoven”. “Blue Echo” > “1348” x2 featured insane bass licks, metal-inspired drums and dueling guitars. The last song of the set started with a clip from Southpark. The clip, which was also played on Rush’s 2008 tour, featured the kids as “Little Rush” and lead UM into a smokin’ hot cover of Tom Sawyer.
Along with all of the music, dancing, and voting, the concert also featured video spoofs between sets and tons of free memorabilia (including Steelers-inspired UMBowl “Terrible Towels”- thanks Stasik!). The venue was perfect for the event, with the stage situated in the corner and an upper level as well as a VIP balcony with plenty of room to dance. After complaints that last year’s UM Bowl was too packed, the band only sold 800 tickets to the event, making it not only more exclusive but more intimate. At any point during the show it was possible to get close to the stage, an uncommon feat at many shows. The decision to sell a more limited number of tickets this year was a great one (though not as great at the decision to cover “Big Bottom”- hilarious!).
All in all, UMBowl was a one-of-a-kind show that catered to the people behind UM, the fans. With the success of this year’s UMBowl, it’s safe to say that this should surely be an annual event. And bands, take note- the musical conversation through the fourth wall is something that is rewarding for both musicians and concertgoers. More musicians should be opening the doors to fan input because, as UMBowl II showed, the results can be inspiring.
Photos by Tim Hara. See the rest of his work here.
First Quarter: Jazz Odyssey > In The Kitchen^, Bonafide Lovin^^ > “Jimmy Stewart”^^^ > Qbert > All In Time^^^^
Second Quarter: Bring the Funk > Classical Regulate > Heavy Metal Dance Party > Waful Meets Disco-ball > Soaring Uplifting jam > Tool Meets Umphrey’s > Moog Cocktail > Take Us To Church > Ambient jam > I’m in a Video Game
Third Quarter: When Harry Met Sally UM video spoof, Ruled by Secrecy*, Untitled**, Going to California***, Untitled****, Heard it Through the Grapevine*****, Great American# > Jam## > Great American#, Big Bottom Spinal Tap###, FF####, Instrumental Electronic Dub jam@, Much Obliged@@, In Violation of Yes@@@
Fourth Quarter: Nothing Too Fancy+ > Mrs. Robinson’s Strut, Divisions > Glory > Divisions, Fifth of Beethoven, Blue Echo > 1348 > Blue Echo > 1348, Tom Sawyer++
Overtime: Thriller/Another Brick in the Wall+++
^^ Chromeo cover
^^^Daft Punk-esque prog metal jam
^^^^completes UMBowl I version [4.24.10]
* Joel solo, Muse cover
** Brendan on piano solo: new song, untitled
*** Brendan on mandolin, Jake on acoustic. Led Zeppelin cover.
**** Ryan on bass, Jake on electric. new song, instrumental and untitled
***** Ryan on bass, Jake on electric, Farag on percussion. Instrumental, jazz version.
# Ryan on bass, Jake on electric, Farag on percussion, Joel on keys.
## Ryan on bass, Jake on drum kit, Farag on percussion, Joel on keys. “Praise You” teases.
### Jake on bass, Farag, on Bass, Ryan on Bass, Brendan on bass, Joel on key-tar, Kris on drums.
#### Kris on electric, Ryan on electric, Joel on percussion, Farag on drums, Jake on piano, Bayliss on bass
@ Bayliss and Joel on keyboards Kris on drums, Farag on percussion, Jake on moog, Ryan on iPhone
@@ Mike Mirro on drums, original line-up. No Jake or Kris.
@@@ Mike Mirro on percussion, all of Umphrey’s.
++ Rush cover, with South Park video intro
Set list courtesy of @Jeffersonwaful