Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Umphrey's McGee: Kids or Jail??

Umphrey's McGee, looking remarkably out of character

The 1600 team had a chance to sit down with the members of Umphrey's McGee before their triumphant return to the 9:30 Club October 17th. We were pleased to catch up with Jake, Brendan, Ryan, Joel, Chris, and Andy, heard some great stories, talked sports, found out about their influences, and heard about the brand new, just released double live album, Live at the Murat, recorded in April at the Murat Egyptian Room in Indianapolis. The interview will air soon on Channel 10 in Fairfax, and will be online shortly after. (So you can figure out why this review is called Kids or Jail!) Don't miss it!

The first set started around 9:30, and the near-capacity crowd was dancing, shouting, and swaying before the band even hit the stage. Umphrey's sound was for the most part, spot on, although Jake was having some difficulty initially with his pedals and effects, but that was ironed out relatively quickly...They opened with "Walletsworth," from their 2004 disc, Anchor Drops, doing one of their trademark jams (a.k.a., a Jimmy Stewart) and returning to the main theme, followed by "Push the Pig," "Believe the Lie" (from the 2006 CD, Safety in Numbers), "Utopian Fir," and "Thin Air."

After a short break to regroup, Umphrey's returned to the stage with "Hurt Birdbath," from 2002's Local Band Does Okay, a title that indicates the band's self-effacing, low-key attitude that makes them refreshingly approachable and down to earth. They continued with "Words," "Smell the Mitten" (A Spinal Tap reference/homage? Pretty funny!), and another Jimmy Stewart, into the title cut from their most recent studio release, The Bottom Half. The set ended on a high note, with "Kabump," and one of their dozens of odd covers, rehearsed and worked out on the bus, at their hotel, and backstage before the show. Tonight's pick was A Flock of Seagulls "I Ran," which I hadn't heard in a very long time, and as enhanced by the Umphrey's crew, sounded pretty good, although I nearly laughed out loud as Brendan launched into the lyrics. Steve was probably the gladdest of all to hear it, however, because it meant that Jerry and I wouldn't have to crush his spleen for suggesting "Sister Christian," another bad 80's tune the band occasionally performs live.

They solo, they duel, they improvise on the fly, and take chances- something few bands (even jam bands) can do as seamlessly, or as apparently effortlessly. But they admit to practicing like crazy (Adrian Belew told us that Umphrey's sometimes even works on material between sets! How hard core is that?) and after 10 years together and over 2,000 shows, the time and effort they put into their music definitely shows! The band goes from one song to suddenly veer off and break into another, completely different style, each member taking off in different directions, and then pulling back right back together to finish the song that started the medley, throwing out the occasional hand signals, or counting off, and watching each other's every move. And the audience moves right along with the beat, nonstop- dancing, laughing and playing, while soaking up every note.

So, look for them to come back in the spring to the DC area and see what the fun is all about. And look for us down by the right speaker, dancing along...

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