Umphrey’s McGee ready to jam at Clyde
Developed new sound during time off road due to pandemic
South Bend natives Umphrey’s McGee are celebrating their 25th year of doing it all their own way.
Well beloved in Fort Wayne, the band last played here in early 2020. In the midst of a quickly-selling-out national tour, they’ll bring the familiar marathon jams that their legions of fans love back to The Clyde Theatre on Jan. 26. But they’ve also got something new up their collective sleeve.
Introducing new sound
Umphrey’s are Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger on guitars and vocals, Joel Cummins on keyboards and vocals, Andy Farag on percussion, Kris Myers on drums and vocals, and Ryan Stasik on bass.
Like their band colleagues Phish, what has set Umphrey’s apart is a duality between crafting meticulously composed, intricate progressive rock on one hand and open-ended trippy improvisation on the other. Prog band, jam band, or both for the same price of admission? Well, it seems that a couple of years of not being able to tour, but continuing to reach their fans through livestreaming songs they had written during the day, added a third dimension to their music.
They’ve released two albums with music they have not been able to play out much before this tour. It started with 2021’s You Walked Up Shaking in Your Boots But You Stood Tall and Left a Raging Bull. It’s a collection of 12 instrumental pieces based on walk-on music the band had been playing live going back to 2009. Ranging from three to six minutes, and built on short rhythmic themes, Umphrey’s play them with crisp, clean textures. I found these tracks very enjoyable for those of us with a shorter attention span than what’s required for those sprawling jam-band excursions.
Along with music from that album, Umphrey’s are also able to perform pieces from their July 2022 release Asking for a Friend, which brings us more focused, concise music: not instrumentals, but pop songs, with heart-felt, introspective vocals, all between three to five minutes. They are breezy yacht rock textures with an undeniable ’70s-into-’80s feel, clean electric guitars, piano, and layered percussion. Unexpected appearances of soaring, saturated arena rock guitar breaks pump you up. Verses, choruses, bridges, catchy tunes, tons of hooks, the whole radio-friendly package, if there were still radio stations that would play them. Who knew a jam band could display this kind of range? I have to tell you, it’s refreshing, even to a veteran prog rock devotee like myself.
Keeping in touch with fans
If you are a loyal fan but haven’t followed these developments, Umphrey’s have documented intimate details about writing and recording all this music, week-by-week. First that was through broadcasts on Sirius XM’s Jam On 309 channel, and later in hours of podcasts that fans can download and stream. Look online for the “Umphrey’s McGee: Talking Circles” series from Osiris Media.
“There was a huge excitement and motivation when we got back together again,” Cummins said about coming out of the pandemic. “More than ever, we realized how much we needed each other and this music.”
Myers added: “This album reflects how our songwriting has really come a long way since the days of putting ‘Legos’ together, a term given to explain our past process of assembling the greater sum of the parts in eclectic fashion. Instead, we were able to naturally connect with these songs with our hearts and a little less from our heads through simple, serene songs.”
In taking this easily understandable and straightforward music off into the metaverse, last year Umphrey’s offered fans a limited edition opportunity that I can’t sort out for you. It’s no longer available, but you could bid on of non-fungible tokens that entitled you, among many other benefits, to download individual recording tracks from the songs on the album. Musician fans were invited to import these tracks, or stems, into their digital audio workstations and re-record and mix them at will. You can read about it at www.AFAF.io, a website the band set up. Fans who bought in were also randomly selected to win copies of the vinyl test pressing, handwritten lyrics, the sheet music and charts the band read from in the studio, and concert tickets.
All this is from the band that has made recordings of virtually every concert they’ve ever given available for sale, download, and streaming. For 10 years they’ve released an annual collection of four or five hours of live concert highlights in a series called Hall of Fame Class of …, which features their trademark extended instrumental jams.
Opener not all doom and gloom
It’s quite a notable opportunity to see Umphrey’s in an intimate theater like The Clyde as the band heads out into bigger and bigger venues, arenas, and festivals.
From Feb. 6-12 they will be headlining the sold-out 19th annual Jam Cruise out of Miami, sailing to the Dominican Republic. In March, they’ll be doing a three-night stand in Aspen, Colorado. In June they’re playing two nights at the massive Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver, then on to the Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tennessee, and the Peach Festival in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
But back to the show at The Clyde, Umphrey’s have yet one more trick up their sleeve: the opening act.
Stasik is opening the show with his band, the evocatively-named Doom Flamingo.
Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Stasik describes them as a project that started out as an ’80s-style “synthwave beast” creating dark dance music reminiscent of the soundtracks John Carpenter composed for his horror films, with some Jan Hammer-esque Miami Vice textures thrown in.
Well, they might be overstating their case: Stasik brings not only Ross Bogan on synthesizers but also flame-throwing R&B singer Kanika Moore, saxophonist Mike Quinn, guitarist Thomas Kenney, and drummer Sean Bing, so there’s plenty of organic and groovy music-making to carry along the geeky dark synthesizer vibe and B-movie sci-fi themes.
All this and a jam band, too. See you there.