Chicago’s Umphrey’s McGee releases jam-packed live album
November 8, 2007
Jam band fanatics: you can rest easy now. The departure of Phish was a sad realization, and no one will ever live up to the standards set by The Grateful Dead, but the tradition of the jam band lives on through Umphrey’s McGee’s Live at the Murat. The lads from Chicago have the charisma, style and talent to create one the biggest live albums this year. Their secret … improvised solos and creative ways to push their music, right before your ears. Throw in over a dozen styles of music, highly driven instrumentals and a highly concentrated musical energy and you got the gist of what this sextet has to offer.
The whole double album is set for success with their opener, the ever-changing “In the Kitchen.” Focusing on the basics first, the acoustic intro bleeds the soul of Santana’s Latin mastery and groove, which then melds into the vocal part of the song that features more improvisation and laid back light rock riffs. Somewhere along the lines, acoustic mutates into electric, and the jazzy driving force of the song bull rushes through, leaving a wonder of song craft and originality, that you won’t know what to expect from the rest of the concert. And that’s just the first song.
In fact, the live album is so fantastically morphed together that it’s almost an insult to even try to say what is considered a song. For a few damn-good minutes, you’ll be treated to the reggae-rock (think The Police) “Higgins,” only to be entertained by the comical and ’70s soul heavy jives (think Earth, Wind and Fire) of “The Fuzz.” That’s just the beginning. Umphrey’s tosses in some of The Allman Brothers Band with their tranquil “Hajimemashite,” the bluesy soul of “’40s Theme,” the trippy acid rock of “The Triple Wide” and even a dash of metal in the power chord driven “Angular Mountain.”
The style of their music is only further complimented by their virtuosic improvisation. In each song they play, they are constantly challenging themselves and each other to bring up their game. Kris Myer’s drum kicks will be matched by Jake Cinnigar’s guitar licks. Brenden Bayliss’ vocals will soar above Joel Cummins’ organ harmonies. The length of these unrehearsed breaks in music might turn some off (we are in a generation of 3 minute music), but those who understand and appreciate the rawness the Umphrey’s shows will revel in the urgency of their originality – a true rarity in today’s music. Umphrey’s McGee will be playing Nov. 10 in Madison, Wis., at the Eagles Ballroom. Go see them if you’re in the area, or take road trip. You will be hard pressed to find a more entertaining show this year.
Matthew Loosbrock is a student at UW-River Falls.