• Umphrey’s McGee Electrifies the Brooklyn Bowl in London for Three Nights

    first_imgOn September 6, 2011, I saw my first Umphrey’s McGee show from the Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg.  Three years and many shows later, I found myself 3,000 miles from Wythe Avenue at the hybrid bowling alley/concert venue. With England playing their World Cup match against Uruguay at the same time the band was set to hit, one should have expected a thin crowd, though no one could have anticipated the intimacy of the show.  With a crowd more akin to an early Benchwarmer’s gig than a show in 2014, it created a fascinating atmosphere that was overly friendly—and comprised of mostly Americans who made the trek across the pond for these shows. Coming out onto the stage a few minutes before 9 p.m., the band strolled out to “Cat Shot” before segueing into “Mulche’s Odyssey.”  While stretched a bit beyond it’s normal length, the band first flexed its improvisational muscles on “In the Kitchen.”  During the “In the Kitchen,” guitarist and “lead” singer Brendan Bayliss took the opportunity to insert a vocal “Jimmy Stewart” into the fan favorite.The “Jimmy Stewart” is the band’s take on improvisation.  The name took hold from when they found a new approach to jamming where they shifted keys, tempos and from major to minor using a series of hand signals that first took form in the Jimmy Stewart meeting room at a hotel in Pittsburgh when they were jamming late one night toward the beginning of their career.  The jams that come out of “Jimmy Stewarts” are almost always the highlight of the shows with guitarist Brendan Bayliss ocassionally adding lyrics that he’s written on the road or improvised lyrics that may find their way into a song.After a nearly 15-minute take on the Anchor Drops classic, the band took the first opportunity of the weekend to play a new song, “Loose Ends.”  While “Loose Ends” has been in rotation for many years, it has taken until Similar Skin for it to find a home on an album.  Admittedly not my favorite song Umph song, Bayliss’ vocals shined through nicely on the soulful number.Seguing out of “Loose Ends” was one of the oldest songs in the UM catalog, “Out of Order.”  With much of the crowd coming from thousands of miles away and having been seeing the band for years and years, this song elicited one of the most genuine and excited reactions of the night as the intricacies of the song were swayed along to by the crowd as each twist and turn of the number brought increasing amounts of joy to the ardent fans.Segueing again, the band then moved into “Day Nurse,” an instrumental song that has one purpose—to get the crowd to dance.  And with plenty of room to move, dance they did, as for eight minutes, the crowd lapped up keyboardist Joel Cummins’ sultry synth lines.To close out the set, the band played my favorite song in the Umphrey’s catalog, “Der Bluten Kat.”  The song features numerous sections and has been a staple for the band for well over a decade.  With a section of the tune quoting Mozart’s “Symphony #40 in G Minor,” the song moves into heavier parts before settling into a strong groove.Before the set was over, the band had more to say, playing “Final Word,” a song which came from a vocal “Jimmy Stewart” in 2005 during “Der Bluten Kat” before making its way back into the final section of “DBK.”For round two, improvisation was king as they opened up the set with a slow building “Nothing Too Fancy,” before dropping into “Ocean Billy.”  While “Ocean Billy” is almost always used as a jam vehicle, this version had a little extra something to it as guitarist Jake Cinninger pushed out a thick tone from his G&L guitar to give the song a little more “umph” (pun intended).The next segment was opened with “Intentions Clear,” which featured some good improv before segueing into relative rarity “Eat.”  The next highlight of the night came in the next two songs as “Conduit” off Death By Stereo gave the fans in attendance and those watching at home on the stream a dark, driving jam.  While not the longest jam of the night, it more than did the trick as in just a few minutes, the band explored multiple themes before closing out the song. The lone cover of the night came next as the Talking Heads’ “Makin’ Flippy Floppy” produced a loose, funky piece of improvisation that settled into a groove and refused to let go for more than a dozen minutes.After a fan yelled “one more song,” bassist Ryan Stasik retorted, “how about three?” showing the intimate nature of the show and prompted the band to play “The Floor,” another off Death By Stereo.For the band’s encore, they opened with the Steely Dan-esque “Comma Later,” which has found its improvisational legs after numerous “standard” versions.  With a “Nothing Too Fancy” tease nestled in (as well as Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” tease), one knew what was coming out of this jam as the final notes of “Nothing Too Fancy” capped off the phenomenal first night of music.With one night in the books and twice as many people in the crowd (we went from less than 100 to closer to 200 on Friday night) Umphrey’s McGee strode out onto the stage for round two from the Brooklyn Bowl London.After an improvisationally heavy show for night one, night two went a different direction, opting for more “straight ahead” versions of songs, though that isn’t to say there weren’t improvisational highlights throughout the show.Night two also had the distinction of featuring an “All Night Wrong” set, which is comprised of only covers, bringing them back to the early days when they were playing to roughly the same number of people in South Bend, Indiana.Right at 8:45, the band came out to “Nipple Trix,” one of the band’s intros, before launching into “Mantis,” a song not typically seen in the opening slot.  While “Mantis” did not see any real improvisational forays, it was notable for not being split, as typically the band will tackle the complex composition in two halves.Up next came “Bad Friday,” a song that originally stemmed from a session at their “sUMmer School” event and debuted on this past New Year’s Eve.  While the song has been in heavy rotation throughout the course of 2014, it has taken until Friday night for it to really find itself as a vehicle for improvisation.Stretching beyond the 13-minute mark, “Bad Friday” was easily the best jam of the night, settling into a groove and then moving out while each band member had their time in the sun.After a short take on “Rocker Part 2,” the band played “Booth Love,” which featured an extended intro and then a nice jam that followed.  To close out the first set, the band sandwiched “Puppet String” with “The Triple Wide” in the middle.For this little sandwich, the band began teasing “The Triple Wide” halfway through “Puppet String” before actually launching into the song.  Inside “The Triple Wide,” the band nestled teases of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” into the band’s most electronic offering before ending the set with the head-banging outro of “Puppet String.”Set two, the aforementioned “All Night Wrong” set, gave new fans a chance to recognize some of the material, but it also hindered some of their improvisational momentum they’d been building throughout the first three sets of the run. To open up the second frame, the band played a spirited take on the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Power of Soul.”  The song has spawned a number of great jams throughout the times that Umphrey’s has played it and this rendition was no exception, providing a rare piece of improv in the second set. After teasing it in “Power of Soul,” the band then played The Wings’ classic, “Live and Let Die.”  This would begin the trend of playing songs that were nearly universally recognizable in their standard forms, not really taking any for a walk.Covers of Led Zeppelin (“The Song Remains the Same”), The Police (“Driven to Tears”) and David Bowie (“Let’s Dance”) followed before the band put their improvisational hats back on for the pairing of ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses,” which segued into Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”For the last two songs of the set, the band played Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher,” which featured spot-on vocals from drummer Kris Myers before guitarist Brendan Bayliss took the lead on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” to cap off the all-cover set.In the encore slot, after playing over an hour of other people’s material, took the opportunity to showcase some of their own songs.  To start things off was “Cut the Cable,” which has been around for a while in a different context; however, the new arrangement that finds a home on Similar Skin has a much heavier feel to it and works well in a live context.To end the show, the band played “The Linear,” also off Similar Skin but has seen heavy play since its debut in 2010 before seguing into a show-closing take on the always-appreciated “40’s Theme.” While not the greatest show musically, Friday night’s show certainly had something for everyone as both the jam in “Bad Friday” and in “The Triple Wide” certainly merits a listen.  Furthermore, the second set got the crowd of The Eagles fans who had trickled in throughout the night (as they were playing in the O2 Arena in the same complex) into the music and probably earned themselves a few fans.While night one had some great moments and night two was an extremely fun show, the band saved the best for last as their Saturday show brought the house down from start to finish.Once again coming out right at 8:45, the band strolled out to “There’s No Crying in Mexico” before seguing into the title track off their new album, “Similar Skin.”  The song, which was derived from four different improvisational segments: “August” from 10/20/12, “Theresa” from 4/27/12, “Miami Virtue” from 2/12/12 and “FF” from 9/24/11.The band then played an old song that just made its way onto an album with “Bridgeless” in an atypical slot for the jam vehicle.  While far from the jam of the year, the band took a patient approach and stretched “Bridgeless” out a bit before seguing into the jazzy “Professor Wormbog.At this point, the next 45 or so minutes of the set were uninterrupted as the band opened the segment up with the jam vehicle “Plunger,” playing just the beginning before moving into the reggae-upstrokes of “Higgins.”  “Higgins” featured a really nice jam that kept going for a while before moving back into the castanet fueled outro of “Plunger.”Without pause, the band moved from “Plunger” into fan-favorite “2×2,” which featured a nice solo by Brendan Bayliss before moving into the hard-rocking outro of “Bridgeless” to close out the first set.While the first five sets of the run may not have featured the kind of mind-melting jams some fans are accustomed to, that changed as the band came out for their sixth and final set of the weekend.As the opening chords of “All in Time” rang out, little did the crowd know that for the next 25 minutes, they weren’t going anywhere.  This rendition of the song could easily be considered jam of the year material on par with the version from the Beacon Theatre in January as the band put their collective foot on the gas pedal and didn’t let go for nearly a half-hour. Following that up was the mashup “Life During Exodus,” which combines the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime,” Bob Marley’s “Exodus” and Frank Zappa’s “City of Tiny Lites.”  The mashup, which was debuted as a part of their Halloween run in 2012 at the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee, has made more appearances than the average mashup as its taken on a bit of a life of its own.Up next for the band was “1348” off Mantis, which didn’t get too far out of the batters box before segueing into “No Comment.”  To close out the show, the band pulled out “Ringo,” a song that almost always delivers a phenomenal jam.  While there was nothing particularly outstanding about this version, by this point, every single person in the venue, whether or not they’d seen the band before, was hooked.  To close out the set, the band segued back into the outro of “1348.” For the encore, the band brought out Manny Sanchez, who co-produced Similar Skin and has worked with the band for years at this point to sing the Misfits’ “London Dungeon,” which led to quite a few confused faces throughout the crowd.  To cap off the three-night run, the band played “Miss Tinkle’s Overture,” a heavy rotation staple, which brought the crowd to a fever pitch to close out the show.Overall, these were three unique shows in terms of venue, size of the crowd and location.  While I wouldn’t expect to see Umphrey’s play across the pond any time soon, these were three shows I will never forget and are well worth checking out on tape as there are plenty of moments throughout all three shows worth giving a listen.Words: Brian Weidy (@frostedweidies) Photos: Jake Diamondlast_img

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