Eugene Weekly : Music : 10.07.10

Fine Art of Music
Umphrey’s McGee goes beyond jam band
by Andrew Hitz

Before you turn your nose up at something you’re unfamiliar with, give Umphrey’s McGee a chance. Many people are put off by the whole concept of a jam band: The soaring guitar solos, 20 minute improvisational jams and multiple set shows are just a bit too unpredictable for some music fans. But more often than not, it seems to be hipsters and music prudes who hate on the jam bands. 

Improvisation and diversity are what Umphrey’s thrives on. They cover everything from Snoop Dogg to Wilco and they do it with extreme precision and their own Umph flair. Though the band members bring their own interests and influences to the table, ultimately, they all bow a knee to the rock and roll gods.

“We all basically subscribe to the gospel of Axel Rose and Slash,” says frontman Brendan Bayliss. “We all fundamentally love rock and roll. But I think any time you get six cooks in a kitchen you’re not just going to have one ingredient.”

The light shows and overt psychedelic dynamic that comes with Umphrey’s performances suggest that indeed they are a jam band, but lead guitarist Jake Cinnegar’s display of classical shred ability hints at the fact that these guys are more prog rock than anything else. I mean, the guy’s a black metal snob. 

More important than being able to recognize certain lyrics or nodding your head to a familiar hook is being able to appreciate the raw, unadulterated, individual talent that each Umphrey’s member possesses and the beauty and grace with which they interweave those different skills. The band even has hand gestures that they communicate with while on stage; my favorite is the provocative “milk it” gesture, used to indicate the extension of shreddy guitar solos or the enhancement of juicy riffs. 

Bayliss is tentative to label their shows as a form of performance art, but that’s just the humble Midwesterner coming out. 

“We just kind of wake up, put on our shoes and go play a rock show,” Bayliss says, after suggesting that he would classify performance art as something more “cerebral.” (Funny, I’m still trying to peel my cerebrum off the ceiling of the McDonald Theatre from last year’s show.) In all seriousness, the genius and technical ability that goes into their improvisations, coupled with their amazing light shows, make them as close to a fine art exhibit that the McDonald is likely to see.

Umphrey’s McGee 8 pm Thursday, Oct. 7. McDonald Theatre • $20