Saturday, January 17, 2015

Umphrey's McGee at the Beacon Theatre

Umphrey's McGee, special guest Joshua Redman,
and Jefferson Waful's lights.
Guitarist/vocalist Brendan Bayliss, bassist Ryan Stasik and keyboardist Joel Cummins founded Umphrey's McGee in 1997 at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. In mid-1998, after only eight months together, the band released a debut album, Greatest Hits Vol. III, in order to get more local bookings. Although more of an improvisational jazz fusion band, Umphrey's McGee soon was discovered and embraced by jam band fans. The band's eighth and most recent studio album, Second Skin, was released in 2014, but the band has released several official live albums and also sells downloads of its concerts after every show. Umphrey's McGee presently consists of Bayliss, Stasik, Cummins, guitarist Jake Cinninger, percussionist Andy Farag and drummer Kris Myers.

Umphrey's McGee made its third annual pilgrimage to the Beacon Theatre, this time for two sold-out nights. The bill listed the band's friend, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman as a special guest for both nights. On the second night, Umphrey's McGee's two sets (separated by a 15-minute intermission) were largely instrumental, as music was presented in continuous waves and movements with few breaks between songs. Except for a few trippy guitar licks that seemed to borrow inspiration from blissful psychedelic Phish or Grateful Dead space licks, the rest of the show was more akin to the 1970s improvisational jams of Frank Zappa, the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report, albeit with a much harder edge. Umphrey's McGee used conventional song structures from which to launch into loose and extended progressive rock instrumentals only to regroup with a portion of another song which in turn led to more energetic free-form ensemble work, often with no pauses. At times the music shifted to hard driving rock, but then drifted back to smooth jazz grooves, calming to what could have been a George Benson concert. The second set even included a cover of Miles Davis' "In a Silent Way," which Umphrey's McGee played for the first time since 2007. Psychedelic effect was provided not so much from the musicians but from the lighting designer, Jefferson Waful. While Waful's lighting schemes were spectacular, they often left the band playing in complete darkness as Waful's ebulliently colorful lights swayed onto the walls, ceiling and audience. Nearly three hours after the band began, as if to remind the audience of its rock credentials, Umphrey's McGee closed near midnight with a faithful rendition of Derek & the Dominos' "Layla." The diversity of Umphrey's McGee's technical proficiency and genre-bending skills proved to be most unique.

Visit Umphrey's McGee at