Blue Robot

A Sold Out State Theatre Welcomes Umphrey’s McGee

Posted by Alexandra Voigt on 02/08 at 03:54 PM

Groundhog Day and State College’s unruly and brutal winter threatens the night’s highly anticipated performance. Yet, the weather does not prevail. In spite of the day’s inclement snow and ice, the night’s plans remain unchanged. Outside the downtown State Theatre, brightly dressed people huddle into the glass doors to retrieve their concert tickets and to await the “not-so-typical-Penn-State show.”

The musicians are a Chicago-based progressive jam band named Umphrey’s McGee. Currently the group is on its Winter 2011 Coast to Coast tour and it remains active almost entirely throughout the spring.  They also will continue into the momentous time period of countless summer music festivals.

At least for a few hours tonight though, the six wildly innovative band members are a different kind of mobile. They’re instrumentally and musically moving.

Praised for their outstanding improvisation and random artist and song mash-ups, Umphrey’s McGee fuses the inconceivable. (The Beatles’ “Come Together” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” is an example). By melding polar opposites into melodious masterpieces, Umphrey’s has created their own neo-genre.

Twenty minutes past 9pm and it’s time. Island blue spotlights signal that they’re off. So begins the steady jam, “Alex’s House,” from the album The Bottom Half, 2007. The two lead vocalists and guitarists, Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, sing the story of Alex together as a rainbow color wheel of lights begins its rapid rotation on and off the stage.

If the audience has not yet witnessed the simultaneous effort and creative musicianship among all the artists, they will momentarily. Deviating right into the funky head-boppin’ groove, “Syncopated Strangers,” Cinninger sings in his theatrical voice, “…Now I, shuffle time it seems; you are a clock…”

The various instruments are always accentuating, complimenting and reflecting off the vocals: guitars, bass, drums, keyboard. All are always prepared for a change in tempo, rhythm or key. Every band member is constantly aware of each other, all truly working in systematic syncopation.

On the display behind Umphrey’s, the lights look like frolicking, textured pastel watercolors. They morph and trickle like water dispersing from a gravitational center. Meanwhile the tempo has slowed and the keyboardist, Joel Cummins, and drummer, Kris Myers, join in song with Bayliss and Cinninger for the collaborative ending “doo, da doo doo.” The cymbals’ stream fades out along with the droning of the guitars.

Midway through the first set, above the fans’ whistling and catcalls, Brendan Bayliss announces to the packed, steaming crowd that the last time they played at the State Theatre, they had half the audience.

The first set continues to rage on for an hour with other fierce songs like, “Go to Hell,” and the concluding favorite, “Women, Wine and Song,” off of Safety in Numbers, 2006. Bassist Ryan Stasik’s hips seem to sway back and forth like clockwork to the lyric “I can’t do without ‘cha’.”  This cliché triad of words (like another popular phrase: sex, drugs and rock n’ roll), describes a life based around pleasure. But most importantly, it instigates a relentless, zealous uprising and sing-a-long in the audience.

After the 20-minute intermission, the band does not prolong its absence, and so directly catapults into the smooth and jazzy song, “The Crooked One” off of Jimmy Stewart 2007. However, the ultimate transition occurs when “Resolution” becomes a robotic, dub version of “Breathe” by Pink Floyd. Talk about crazy innovation. The band members use different modulation effects like reverberation, echo and panning to generate a reggae mash-up to a Dark Side of the Moon classic. They perfect “Breathe” by closing it out with the gratifying chanting of Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.”

The rate of the congregation’s flowing, bopping and swaying body limbs never teeters. They even went into a rendition of Peter Gunn’s “Every Breath You Take” remix and Toto’s “Africa.”  It ignited a continuous groove.

About two and a half hours of playing music, dancing, singing, shouting and smiling flew by Wednesday night. After playing two songs for their encore, Umphrey’s McGee called it one hell of a night.  The kaleidoscope of radiant, trancelike colors beaming from the tech booth turned back to ordinary fluorescent office lights.

As people scurried back out into the cold they talked of the spontaneous jam session that just took place, still longing for more.

In a recent article from the Centre Daily Times, percussionist Andy Farag said that the band strives to create their own sound. It would be safe to say that Umphrey’s McGee has easily accomplished its own unique style.

A Penn State senior and an avid Umphrey’s fan, Salvatore Burgio, raved about the entire evening performance and, he too agreed that the band’s novelty is something to condone. “They’ve done everything I can possibly think of. It’s not fair.”

Mainstream in the jam community but not necessarily in all realms of today’s music, the “improg” rock group, Umphrey’s McGee, continues to shred and shock in their 13th year of jamming.

***If you wish to see Wednesday’s entire set list, click here.

{name} Author: Alexandra Voigt
Bio: [Alex] is currently a senior double majoring in Print Journalism and International Studies with a double minor in Music Technology and French. As random as all that may seem, Alex’s true passion lies within the art of music and the countless characteristics of rock and roll. Growing up to everything classic rock, she indulges in Led Zeppelin, The Doors, CCR, The Animals, Neil Young up through 90s grunge and today’s indie/folk rock and electro beats like: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Spoon, The Black Keys, TV on the Radio and Bassnectar!, (don’t turn away, that is only a taste of the list). Alex also loves using music programs like Logic Pro to mix, modulate and place different effects on songs, which is why electronic/techno and dubstep play an essential factor in her everyday life.

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