Umphrey's McGee Make An Impression

Iowa City, IA, USA; April 3, 2007

by Paul Hanson

I am not an avid jam band fan. Bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead are mysterious entities to me. I own nothing by either band -- a fact that I’m not necessarily proud of, but that I mention in the interest of framing this concert review in a clear context. I have no personal interest in whether Umphrey's McGee makes a lot of money on their current tour. I can also tell you that I felt ferociously out of place. I'm 35, married, kids, eight-to-five job in the software industry. My fellow concert goers were all young (under 25), single or dating, college students, enjoying being young, catching a band, and living it up.

I think the Umphrey's McGee show I caught at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, IA, on Tuesday, April 3 2007, was the great equalizer.

Without a doubt, the concert was amazing. The hundreds in attendance were given an outstanding show that relied on each band member's talents. When I watched this band, it was easy to think about Rush or Yes or  * King Crimson* in the midst of an eight-minute-plus song, feeling the groove and the energy from the audience. What you didn't get were any cliché "How you doing tonight?" or "Having a good time?" or "You guys really kick ass. You are the best audience we've had on this entire tour!" In fact, you might even feel like you’re looking in on a band rehearsal, as I did. The band doesn't employ typical rock show between-song banter, and that contributes to very good results.

With smiles and acknowledgement of the hundreds that gathered, the band's talent was immediately evident as Ryan Stasik (bass) launched a groove. Andy Farag (percussion) joined in and before long, all six members were feeding off of each other. This first song lasted a half-hour -- I'm not kidding. There were brief passages where Brendan Bayliss (guitar, vocals), Jake Cinninger (guitar, vocals), Joel Cummins (keyboards, vocals), and Kris Myers (drums, vocals) would sing, but for the majority of that first song, it was pure instrumental bliss. Both Bayless and Cinninger played melody after melody with finger tapping techniques during their solos. The light show and the groove from the other members was intense.

That the show was amazing seems like an understatement. Even Bob Marley's "Kinky Reggae" was tremendous. Girls took off their shoes and danced and swayed to the beat while the college boys clearly thought the many large "NO SMOKING" signs in the venue meant everyone else but them.

I learned three things I want to pass on to you about Umphrey’s McGee:

1. Their songs are like water on the beach by the ocean. Delicate guitar melodies accelerate to thrash-metal intensity, crashing the shore, retreating, gathering strength and returning to an awe-inducing pitch.

2. If the song they are playing does not have a catchy or simple name, fear not. If you are at the concert, you will probably find yourself surrounded by stinky college kids who haven't showered in weeks (judging by the body odor) who know all the lyrics and scream them along with the band.

3. Finally, the songs you hear at the concert can live on in your CD player forever for $20. As I walked out of the venue, there were two PC towers with 10 CD burner drives each churning out CD-Rs of the show. Twenty hard-earned bucks gets you a 2 CD official release from the band of the show you just heard. It takes Metallica's Livemetallica.com site to the next level. On that site, you can download the MP3s from the show you saw a couple of days later. With Umphrey's McGee, you can walk out of the venue with a CD already burned.

Finally, if this band comes to your town, and you like music that grooves in the jam band tradition, this concert is for you. Bring $20 extra bucks with you to pick up the CD.

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