Following the critical and commercial success of Umphrey’s McGee’s three recent studio albums – “Anchor Drops” in 2004, “Safety in Numbers” and “The Bottom Half” in 2006 – “Live at the Murat,” released on Oct. 16, mixes things up with a great representation of the diverse influences found in a typical live show. And Umphrey’s will bring that live show to 9:30 Club Wednesday night.
Soon after their formation, Umphrey’s released their debut “Greatest Hits Volume III” in 1998, following with 1999’s live “Songs for Older Women” and subsequently 2002’s “Local Band Does OK”. Since then, Umphrey’s McGee has toured extensively and grown to a sextet, with dual guitarists/vocalists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss, bassist Ryan Stasik, keyboardist/vocalist Joel Cummins, drummer/vocalist Kris Myers, and percussionist Andy Farag comprising the current lineup.
“Murat” showcases the band members’ diverse talents with acoustic tracks such as the opener, “In The Kitchen,” funkier tunes like “The Fuzz,” metallic head-bangers such as “Padgett’s Profile,” and the largely electronic-sounding tracks like “The Triple Wide.”
Their lyrics are also decent and go well with the songs. Take the quiet sounding “In The Kitchen” for example: “I was short of opinions and I wanted to know / If I’d see your face tomorrow / ‘cuz it was cold in the kitchen and the lights were low / as winter wrapped around Chicago.”
Though certain critics have been quick to draw comparisons between Umphrey’s McGee and bands such as Phish and the Grateful Dead, simply labeling them another “jam band” proves to be a crude assessment of the band’s overall musical ability and certainly neglects the band’s wide range of influences. This becomes readily apparent a few tracks into “Murat”- elements of metal, rock, jazz, hip-hop, and electronica can all be detected in their songs. In their relatively short 10-year history, Umphrey’s McGee has already succeeded in stretching the limits of the jam band genre itself. The band is likely to cover musical ground as far apart as Iron Maiden and Snoop Dogg during a single live performance while still remaining, at least technically, within the framework of the jam band genre.
Bands such as Phish were able to solidify the jam genre as one in which musical genres such as jazz, blues, rock, funk, country, and sometimes reggae were brought together in a largely improvised performance. While Umphrey’s has continued this tradition by opting to include these elements in their music, they have also experimented to a greater degree by adding newer musical genres to the mix.
The progression of Umphrey’s music over the course of a set also sets them apart. Many jam bands struggle with maintaining an interesting jam by moving a song too far away from its original structure (i.e. so far away from the original beat or hook of the song that the original groove can scarcely be detected); yet while Umphrey’s will push the song away, it typically returns to the original hook before completing the song altogether. In this way, Umphrey’s is able to pull off impressive musicianship over 18 tracks without annoying listeners by being too indulgent of their talents, while listeners will never be bored by a 16 minute guitar or drum solo on “Murat.”
Arguably, Umphrey’s manages to offer modern listeners a more accessible (or perhaps more enjoyable) listening experience than the average jam-influenced band. And while their music certainly falls under the genre of jam, they succeed in providing listeners with a musical experience that is fresh and entertaining.
Witness Umphrey’s McGee’s inventive live act Oct. 17 as the band passes through D.C. and plays the 9:30 Club (815 V St. NW) in support of “Live at the Murat.” Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the box office or online at www.930.com.