Jam Band Umphrey’s McGee invades Abbey Road Studios & Tennessee
Progressing to the outer reaches of the solar system
Photos: Nathan Leslie www.facebook.com/nslmedia
Who said the extended jam was a thing of the past? The extended jam was introduced to the musical public by the Grateful Dead, then was passed to the 21st Century by Phish, and now in the future Umphrey’s McGee is passing the baton of spontaneous improvisation to us. Shutter16 will run photo coverage of UM’s August 19th concert in Knoxville, TN as well as their August 20th concert Nashville. Umphrey’s McGee is a hybrid of ambient rock and fusion jazz, with a sprinkling of vocal arrangements here and there. They cover pseudo-symphonic euro-bands, like Pink Floyd (“Shine on You Crazy Diamond”) and the Beatles (“I Want You So Bad (She’s So Heavy)”) in their repertoire.
The old sarcastic joke runs, “Progressive rock? Progressing to what?” Well Umphrey’s McGee, which was formed in 1997 at University of Notre Dame in Indiana, recently progressed to Abbey Road Studios to cut one of their most recent studio releases, The London Session. Here is where they pay homage to the Beatles by recording “I Want You So Bad (She’s So Heavy).” The recording has an uncanny resemblance to the original from the Abbey Road album in tone, but has a guitar solo with a more updated musical vocabulary (with jazz fusion licks if I could be a little bit more specific). I wouldn’t be surprised if they used the same amplifier that George Harrison used on the original track.
Rock fusion isn’t for everyone, but for those who like Return to Forever, Pat Metheny and Weather Report you might enjoy UM. I haven’t found a track of theirs that runs less than about 8 minutes and their songs go through metamorphosis, changing into what you might want to compare to the movements that are found in classical music. The band cites a long list of influences including Yes, King Crimson, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Zappa and the Police. They have what jazz musicians refer to as “big ears,” which means they listen to everything and anything even though it might not directly pertain to their genre. UM allows an open taping policy, meaning that fans can tape live performances to their hearts desire, a policy that is rare in today’s music industry. The Grateful Dead spearheaded the open taping policy, and it propelled the Dead’s popularity.
As I mentioned before, Umphrey’s McGee is not solely instrumental. Some of their songs have lyrics, and some tracks had some nice vocal harmonies. But lyrics aren’t their selling point. They are more about the jam and the modulations in the music. UM is music for listening to, not for dancing to, and that is fine. I’ve said a few times that most music has a function, whether it be the religious music of praise, formal ceremony, storytelling, dance or music just for listening pleasure. Each kind of music has its function; its audience and context that it belongs in. Good or bad is in the ear of the beholder.
Around 2005, UM’s 75 minute podcast help spread the group’s popularity in the new century, recruiting those math majors in the online community. The show reached 20,000 listeners and was released approximately twice a month. In 2006, UM really made it on the radar when they were featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live.Working alongside well known artists such as Huey Lewis, Sinead O’Connor and Mavis Staples and others has also bolstered their career.
This August, their tour takes them through the American South with a show in Arlington, VA and concerts in several localities in Tennessee. In September play Denver, CO ,Chicago, Il,, Denver, CO, Columbus OH, Pittsburgh, PA., Utica, NY, Tuscaloosa AL, Alpharetta, GA, and North Charleston, SC. In October they go to Philadelphia, PA and hit St. Louis, MO for two shows and play a show in Live Oak, FL. December brings them to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Listen to the set-list here: