Friday, January 15, 2010
Jake Cinninger, lead guitarist for Umphrey's McGee, is pondering how his group should approach the setlist to its first concert in Boise next week.
Metal, I suggest. Unleash the metal.
"Let's do it," Cinninger says. "Maybe some Anthrax?"
Yeah. Feel like doing some moshing, Boise jam-band fans?
Heavy metal is not a genre generally associated with the neo-hippie tape-trading crowd, which forms the core of Umphrey's McGee's fan base.
But the members of this progressive improvisational act - Cinninger, in particular - take joy in exorcising their inner headbanger once in a while.
While many of the Chicago band's quirky, prog-rock originals are easy on the ears, songs such as "Pay the Snucka" and "Wizard Burial Ground" owe as much to Metallica as they do to Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and other bands that influence the group. Last year, Cinninger and members of Umphrey's McGee even released an instrumental collaboration - called OHMPhrey - with former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland.
It's all part of what Cinninger describes as a post-modern ideology. Umphrey's McGee, he says, is a post-jam band.
"It's kind of like, the Dead used folk and jazz, and Phish used Zappa mentality and jazz and rock," Cinninger explains. "We were kind of the post-children of using grunge a bit more, a little bit more ethereal rock, a little bit more progressive voice. A bit more metal. That's kind of where we are in 2010."
Before you start digging out that Iron Maiden 1984 tour shirt to wear to the Umphrey's McGee concert Tuesday, understand this: You might not hear much thrashy stuff at all.
Since releasing its first proper CD, "Local Band Does O.K." in 2002, Umphrey's McGee has defined itself as a sonic shape-shifter. Night to night, there's no telling what fans may get - rock, pop, prog ... maybe a cover of Toto's "Africa." Maybe all in the same 5 minutes. This is a band that sells its live shows on CD each night. That strives for constant variety. "Everything's very organic," Cinninger says.
Umphrey's McGee writes its complex, multi-part songs using a "Lego mentality," Cinninger explains. It's a building-block philosophy that helps explain the group's latest album, "Mantis," including the 12-minute title track.
"To make a really great record, at the end of the day, it's all about destroying and recreating, destroying and recreating," Cinninger says. "A lot of what I talk about songwriting to the band is: We have this little idea and how do we make it better? The idea is to shift and change and add. And subtract. It's kind of like this big mathematical equation."
Credit the other members of Umphrey's McGee - vocalist/guitarist Brendan Bayliss, keyboardist Joel Cummins, bassist Ryan Stasik, drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag - for even keeping up with Cinninger half the time.
Bayliss, a formidable lead guitarist in his own right, often appears amused on stage as he watches Cinninger's picking hit warp speed. Cinninger sometimes appears visibly surprised by his own fretboard dynamics.
If Tuesday is your first live Umphrey's McGee experience, you'll probably feel the same way - especially if this band decides it's one of those nights where it's all about the metal, baby.
"People love good rigid, rocky music," Cinninger says. "You have to take the sense of a robot occasionally to get that done. It's not all about being loose as a goose and funky as a monkey. It's good to have that rigid sense to get that metal out of you."
Set One (10:21 MST): Resolution*, 2x2 > "Jimmy Stewart"** > 2x2, The Crooked One$, Black Water (11:23)
Set Two (11:50): In the Kitchen$$ -> Made to Measure^^ > Sociable Jimmy$ > "Jimmy Stewart"^^ -> Professor Wormbog$ > "Jimmy Stewart"^ > In the Kitchen^, In Bloom, Got Your Milk (Right Here)^ (12:51)
Encore (12:53): Mulche's Odyssey (1:00)
* Aeroplane jam (RHCP); Bayliss on keys for outro jam
^ Bayliss on keys
** lighting power outage; Jake on Moog
$$ Bridgeless jam and Carol of the Bells tease
^ Jake on keys
^^ Jake on Moog and Bayliss on Korg (just Jake for composed section of M2M)
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