Umphrey’s McGee on why they’re not a jam-band

Umphrey’s McGee returns to the 9:30 Club Saturday night. Their rigorous touring schedule brought them to D.C. twice in 2006, and they’re back this spring in support of their brand new double album, “The Bottom Half.”

The waking scratch of a muttered “Hello” greets me on the phone. Bassist Ryan Stasik reassures me that he is just rolling out of bed in Knoxville, Tenn., after a show in North Carolina the night before. My perky voice must be unfairly irritable, but he is cordial nonetheless as I badger him about jam bands.

“I listen to a lot of progressive metal, or R&B-type music from the 70s. I do enjoy the jam-band stuff, but it’s not in my player . We kind of get lumped into that scene, but I don’t think anybody [in the band] is listening to it.”

For those unfamiliar, Umphrey’s McGee has made their name playing expansive progressive rock. Their complex songwriting leads to distant explorations, and can leave the untrained ear lost at times. Originally out of South Bend, Ind., and since relocated to Chicago, Umphrey’s has built their reputation on wild live shows, complete with off-the-cuff covers and at times endless noodling, searching until they find a big finish and everyone gets excited.

Umphrey’s new two-disc set was released in stores April 3. The first disc is comprised of 10 original tunes more or less left over from the recording sessions for their 2005 release, “Safety In Numbers.” Though hardly groundbreaking for the band, “The Bottom Half” is a diverse and valuable collection of songs to be added to their already vast catalog. “Bright Lights, Big City” is a hard-rock head-nodder early in the album, a song sure to translate well to the stage. “Atmosfarag” on the other hand, stands out as a trance-y, more electronically oriented track. The album finishes with the heartfelt “Home,” a smooth and quiet guitar-based song of not a few clich? lyrical themes, but a nice song nonetheless.

Stasik was happy to explain about the second disc of the new album. “Our soundman tapes pretty much everything while we’re recording. So, a lot of it is just us in the studio, talking about, ‘Hey. there’s this big idea,’ or ‘Whadd’you think about this,’ and the editing’s not really there, it’s just kind of what happened, different splices of different sections to see how we actually put the record together, you know, what made it and what didn’t. So it’s more for those people who want to know how things work from the ground up.”

Since 1998, Umphrey’s have been gathering new fans at every stop around the world. For a band averaging 150 shows a year since 2001, they have a veritable army of admirers at this point. On Saturday night, the 9:30 Club is sure to be packed with smelly dreads and uptight adults (and A LOT of high school kids) all alike. And for the curious many who remain in the dark, Mr. Stasik may have summed it up best just for you, describing Umphrey’s as “a pleasant, aggressive experience.”

Umphrey’s McGee will be at the 9:30 Club on Saturday. Tickets are $20. It is an early show, with doors at 5:30. Brothers Past will open.

The Bottom Half is their new album and is available in stores and on iTunes.

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