It’s ten minutes after start time. No Umphrey’s McGee on stage. Twenty minutes. No sight of them. Fans hailing from all corners of the Midwest start to become restless. After each song on the PA ends, chants emerge for Umphrey’s McGee band members to take the stage.
A crowd of hundreds has already gathered in front of the stage anticipating the first song. Minutes later, the music track is faded down, lights dimmed, and the stage is colored with blue as the band members take the stage among endless cheers from the audience. Guitarist and Vocalist Jake Cinninger meanders through his famed 3-ring binder of songs and the music begins to flow.
Umphrey’s McGee is a Chicago-based jam band spawned from South Bend, Indiana, where original members Joel Cummins, Brendan Bayliss, Ryan Stasik and Mike Mirro attended college at Notre Dame.
Mirro, on drums, left the band in 2003 to go on to medical school. Kris Meyers joined up soon after and learned Umphrey’s two hundred songs when the band prepared to tour that year. But, without reading his biography, it would seem as if he were one of the original members on stage.
The group opens with “Hangover,” a slow jam tune to prepare the crowd for a trip through multiple genres at what Cinninger refers to as an, “aggressive volume.”
Before I knew it, aggressive volume took shape with “Tribute” and “Who Knows” after a woman from Alabama next to me had donated her bra to the stage in admiration. Guitarist Brendan Bayliss sheepishly adorned a microphone with it.
Band members are incredibly playful between each other on stage and with the audience. At one point, bassist Ryan Stasik got caught up in a Mr. Roboto dance while Cinninger and guitarist Brendan Bayliss threw chords between each other.
This group definitely knows their audience well and it shows as they break songs into different tempos at seemingly unerring moments. Umphrey’s works the audience so they expect the unexpected and are overjoyed when it appears through jamming from song to song.
Intently playing each instrument, Umphrey’s McGee comes across as though they are sticking to a set plan. The plot of the performance does not flow from a typed-out-in-the-set list. Instead, Umphrey’s gives the fans a fluid, improvisational performance packaged as a stunningly impressive collaboration on stage.
Known for incorporating covers into their performances, the group added a Top Gun tease into “Ja Junk” towards the end of the first set.
Opening the second set with new and first-time-played song, “Atmosfarag,” pioneered by percussionist Andy Farag, Umphrey’s drew the crowd back to the stage in greater numbers.
Towards the end of the second set, the band worked the extrasensory “Lites Out Jo” into the middle of “Padgett’s Profile.” The effect of the lights off and on with the music and the small lights on the ceiling of the Barrymore created an experience that elevated the crowd off the floor in awe.
Back on stage for the encore, the group closed the night out with “Great American” and “Walletsworth” to tone things down for the energized audience. After nearly three hours of playing on stage, the tired bandmembers left the stage after tossing the printed set lists to a few lucky concertgoers after an extended and strong performance.
With their hefty tour calendar stretching across the country, Umphrey’s McGee is a definite crowd pleaser with an impressively strong showing by fans from all reaches at each gig.
Good, solid jam bands are clearly a hard thing to find. Meshing band members with the ability to fluidly work together while bras fly onto the stage is equally impressive.