Josh Korin attended his first UM Bowl this past weekend and shares his thoughts with us.
This past Friday I had the opportunity to be in attendance at the Park West as Chicago’s own improg heavyweights Umphrey’s McGee threw down a five and a half hour spectacular known as UM Bowl. UM Bowl, now in it’s third year has become one of the bands most eagerly anticipated shows of the year and the sextet did not disappoint the sold out crowd.
There were plenty of people looking for extras, but there weren’t any to be found. The doors opened at 7 PM with the line stretching well around the block. Fans streamed into the venue quickly looking to stake out a prime spot. The intimate setting provided Umphreaks new and old with the opportunity to see their band do their thing up close and personal. Lighting director Jefferson Waful dropped the houselights at exactly 8 PM and the massive video screens and monitors positioned throughout the venue came to life. The video showed members of the band backstage in a humorous setting, which just upped the anticipation even further.
You can read the rest of Josh’s UM Bowl thoughts after the break.
Umphrey’s hit the stage immediately after the two minute video ended with bassist Ryan Stasik welcoming everyone to a special night. After a brief explanation of how the event was going to work and the role that each audience member would play, the band was off. The first quarter was an all request set where the band would put it’s own spin on certain originals and covers that were decided based on prior fan voting.
The band took off on an instrumental take of “Flamethrower > NightNurse > Voyager” to open the show. One of Umphrey’s most popular originals, “Front Porch” really got the place rocking as guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss traded heavy prog rock licks while Stasik, drummer Kris Meyers, percussionist Andy Farag, and keyboardist Joel Cummins all took the lead at various points of the jam. The jam was controlled and paced by an intricate system of baseball like hand signals relayed mostly by Stasik and Cinninger. A new Umphrey’s debut “Comma Later” was up next and was well received by the crowd.
Next up was one of the many highlights of the night as Umphrey’s embarked on the Grateful Dead classic “Help On The Way”. Played with true reverence, the version was spot on and segued seamlessly into the timeless Dead instrumental, “Slipknot!” Following a fairly standard spin through the song, many of us (myself included) expected that the Holy Trinity would conclude with “Franklin’s Tower,” but Stasik and his bandmates had a curveball for us when the unmistakable bass line of Tool’s “46 & 2″ rang out. Bassist Ryan Stasik had a huge grin on his face as he announced this was long a number that he had been looking forward to playing. And his affection for Tool is well documented. The high energy, flawlessly executed spin through the hard rock anthem brought a spirited end to the first set.
The band was back on stage at about 9:20 PM for the second quarter. The second set was dubbed a Stew Art event where the audience plays a key role by texting their ideas to the band. In turn the band will interpret the ideas of the audience on the fly. Some of the themes texted in were Middle Eastern Metal, Hip Hop Tribute and Afternoon Bus Ride in Jamaica. Perhaps the improvisational highlight of the evening dubbed Soaring Uplifting Jam Part 2 ended the second quarter and took the show into halftime. Before the band left the stage, guitarist Brendan Bayliss encouraged the sweaty masses to grab some water and stretch a bit as the band had plenty more in store for the fans.
The third quarter was underway shortly after 10:30 PM and again the audience would play a key role in how this set would unfold. The Choose Your Own Adventure quarter saw the band give the fans a series of options that would be displayed on the video monitors and responses for what you wanted to hear next could be texted in and the option with the highest percentage would dictate where the band would go next. Spectacular improvisation and full band interplay was displayed throughout the third quarter as the band moved seamlessly and effortlessly through “All In Time”, “Glory”, “August”, and an all out dance party ensued as the cover song selected in the third quarter featured a spectacular room shaking spin on the Talking Heads classic “Making Flippy Floppy.”
Perhaps the most anticipated quarter of the evening was the fourth. The theme of the final quarter was Jimmy Stewarts and fans would get a first hand look at the bands improvisational prowess. Umphrey’s McGee improvise in a fashion unlike many other bands that jam and these Jimmy Stewarts excursions are a great example of their skill. For the fourth quarter the band gave the fans the opportunity to vote on some of their favorite Stews that the band had performed over their 13+ years of relentless touring. The band took it upon themselves to listen to the top eight choices and recreate these improvisational pieces of wizardry, note for note. “Stews” featured during the fourth quarter ran the gambit from 2004 all the way through pieces that had been performed as recently as 2011.
The overtime set consisted of a 14-minute version of “Divisions” and as the applause finally died down a sweaty, tired and thoroughly amazed crowd spilled out of the Park West eagerly awaiting UM Bowl IV.
UM Bowl III
Friday, April 27, 2012
First Quarter: Flamethrower > Night Nurse > Voyager > Front Porch, Comma Later*, Help On the Way > Slipknot!, 46 & 2**
Second Quarter: Stew Art event
Third Quarter: All In Time$ > Glory > The Linear > August$ > Lay Down Sally jam > Bridgeless, Preamble > Mantis$ > Making Flippy Floppy > Nothing Too Fancy$$
Fourth Quarter: Mulche’s Odyssey 10.20.07 > The Haunt 06.10.06 > Bright Lights Big City 02.11.11 > Intentions Clear 03.03.11%, The Triple Wide 12.11.04 > Nemo 04.08.05% > Groove Holmes 11.02.06 > In the Kitchen 01.22.09 > In the Kitchen$$
** debut, Tool
$$ ending only
% with lyrics