Wednesday, January 20, 2010 Cubs in Talks with Billy Joel, Elton John, DMB, Phish, Others for Summer Concerts

Chicago News has learned the Chicago Cubs are talking with several bands about playing concerts this summer at Wrigley Field.

Neighbors and music fans are curious to know just who the Cubs are talking to.

The Cubs are having discussions with Billy Joel and Elton John, who played two concerts together at Wrigley last summer.

FOX Chicago News has also been told the Cubs are talking to acts including: Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Kenny Chesney and Paul McCartney.

Read more Bonnaroo Teases Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Furthur In 2010

Bonna-rumors are flying about who will headline the annual rock festival in Manchester, Tennessee this year.

Organizers teased the appearance of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead offshoot Furthur, and Jay-Z in a series of recent tweets, by alluding to their respective album and song titles. See if you can guess which tweet alludes to which artist. Read the tweets and more

Video: Grateful Dead "Ripple" Radio City Music Hall 1980

This one never gets old. "Deep Chemistry" Andy Farag Interview

Andy Farag, percussionist for Chicago prog-rock powerhouse Umphrey’s McGee is very careful to avoid the term “jam band.” His use of “improv” or “progressive improvisation” when describing the band’s legendarily complex, turn-on-a-dime jams, is a subtle way of setting his band apart from the masses. But, establishing individuality isn’t something that Umphrey’s, together since 1997, has ever found to be a huge difficulty, and certainly not for the last several years. Formed in South Bend, Ind., in the shadows of the University of Notre Dame, the band leans more toward the riff-heavy guitar acrobatics of Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, King Crimson and even Iron Maiden rather than the usual noodling often associated with the jam band scene. In January 2009, Umphrey’s released its newest studio album, Mantis, which was recorded without test driving the material at any of their more than 100 annual live shows—a first for the six-piece band. The recording is a major return to the band’s prog-rock roots after the more acoustic, songwriting-oriented Safety in Numbers and The Bottom Half. The following is a portion of a conversation I recently had with Farag about music and the evolving, intimate nature of being in a band. Catch Umphrey’s McGee with Chicago newgrass jam band Cornmeal at the Orpheum Theater, 15 W. Aspen, Thu, Jan. 14. Tickets are $20 for the all-ages show and doors open at 8 p.m. with the show starting at 9 p.m. For more info, see or, or call 556-1580.

Ryan Heinsius: Umphreys’ McGee has been busy. You just played your annual three-night New Year’s run. Are you recovered from that yet?

Andy Farag: I’m fully recovered. Just starting back my workout regimen and everything’s good.

RH: I read that Jeff Coffin (saxophone, Béla Fleck and Flecktones, the Dave Matthews Band) and DJ Z-Trip played this year. How was that?

AF: Good. Jeff’s been part of our New Year’s run for the last few years and we’ve just been good friends. Any time he’s around he comes out and jams with us. It’s great to have someone of that caliber not only on your friend level, but being able to play music with them, it’s just unbelievable. And Z-Trip; Z-Trip was unbelievable as well—an extremely talented DJ.
He has an ear for mixing different songs together. His whole set really flows well.

RH: You guys have such a reputation as a live band. In your mind, how have your shows evolved from when you were playing around South Bend?

AF: They’re definitely more complex. I think we have more of a system now of doing our improv, the way we write a set list, and our style has changed a lot since then too. We’ve added a couple different musicians that have definitely changed the style up, from the early days.

RH: You definitely work with some atypical time signatures and complex arrangements. How did you arrive at that point in your musicality?

AF: After a while it just becomes muscle memory after playing it so much. That’s really what it comes down to. You just play it so many times that you don’t even think about it. We’ll take a song that we’ve been playing for years and years—let’s say we’re trying to teach it to a horn player or something. Sometimes we like forget how to teach it to somebody. ‘Cause like they’re asking, “What time signature is it in? What’s the count here?” And you’re like, “Actually, I don’t know. Let’s count that and figure it out.” But a lot of that is muscle memory and I’ve found, for me at least, it’s easier to keep things simplified, not making it harder than it really is.

RH: Since 2003 you guys have been offering bootlegs of every one of your live performances at your shows and on your Web site. How did that idea come up? It seems like a massive undertaking considering the amount of shows you play.

AF: John, our tour manager, runs all the day to day stuff. And then Kevin (Browning, sound engineer) also runs all that from the soundboard and works on that … It’s been great. People love to be able to walk out of the show with the show in hand.

RH: It seems that Umphrey’s McGee has typically been associated with the jam band scene. But, there are so many obvious varied influences in your music. As outsiders in some ways, what draws you to the jam band live scene and what sets you apart from it?

AF: I think what draws us to it is that the audience lets us take risks and it’s an audience that appreciates a lot of different types of music. And I think anything that sets bands apart from other bands is just creating your own style really. I think that sometimes our style is a little on the progressive rock side—I wouldn’t say a little, I’d say that a good part of it is progressive rock. It’s just the overall feel with the guitars. Kris (Myers), our drummer, is very influenced by progressive rock and he was in a metal band back in the day, as was Jake (Cinninger, guitar/vocals). Jake was actually a drummer in a metal band. But, I’d say that we have that more aggressive progressive rock style that kind of sets us apart from a lot of the bands, considering the jam band scene.

RH: Yeah, I hear a lot more Robert Fripp and King Crimson-type stuff in what you guys do than, say, Phish or Dead. In a band with several musicians, obviously there’s a ton of influences swirling around. As a band what do you all agree on?

AF: Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin probably. I would say all of us really have diverse influences when it comes to what we listen to. That’s what’s cool about it because we’ll be sitting on the bus and someone will play something they’ve been listening to, and another guy will play something they’ve been listening to, and so we introduce each other to new things.

RH: I imagine as a percussionist improvising with a band is especially interesting because you, more than anybody else, add that color—you’re not playing the primary riff or a main part of the song.

AF: It’s something that took me, as I’m sure it takes other percussionists, a little while to be able to know how to lay out at the right times and not feel like you want to play all the time. Like the attitude of “Hey, look at me” kind of thing.

RH: You mean the guitar player syndrome?

AF: Right. It’s kind of in the nature of that instrument anyway. In guitar solos it’s like “Hey, check me out!” Whereas my role is more to create layers and accent the music.

RH: I imagine that finding new avenues for songs night after night is a huge challenge. How do you keep it fresh on tour and when you’re playing a lot of shows?

AF: We’ll change up the way we play certain songs; whether it’s putting improv in one section of the song or coming up with a different arrangement. We’ll mix and match that kind of stuff.

RH: And then I imagine changing up the set lists every night is huge.

AF: Yeah definitely. It helps us to go out there with a new excitement of playing something a different way. It definitely adds a little more excitement for us.

RH: Tell me a little bit about Mantis. It definitely seems like a bit of a return to that prog-rock sound you were talking about.

AF: Yeah it is. It’s definitely more of a prog-rock side—more composed, kind of operatic stuff; a rock opera kind of thing. And they were all songs that we had never previously played live. So that was something that we had never done before.

RH: What was the inspiration to do that?

AF: We wanted to save these tunes so that it was a surprise all at once—we’d come out with all these new songs. It was just to try something different.

RH: And you took quite a while, relatively, to record the album. How did you avoid the Axl Rose pitfall of tinkering endlessly?

AF: We would do it in between tours so basically we’d block off time when we had time and we’d go out on tour and come home and work on it. So it gave us a lot of time to really listen back to certain versions and get it right. But at the same time, we didn’t have all that time because we were out touring and never even messed with it when we were out touring. We just completely went away from it.

RH: Which I imagine was a really good thing to clear your heads.

AF: Yeah, it was very good. It was a very good thing.

RH: Having played these songs live since the album came out in January, has that experience given them new personalities that weren’t apparent in the studio?

AF: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve definitely messed with, tinkered with some of these songs, playing them different ways, extending certain sections, certain solos. We had our friend from the Easy Star All-Stars, and he did a version of “Turn & Run” dub style. And it turned out really great. We just recently did a version of it at our New Year’s show with a horn section.

RH: Is there any new stuff in the works with Umphrey’s?

AF: We’re always working on new stuff. We have a handful of new tunes that we’ve been off and on touching on and so now that we’ve been playing these Mantis tunes for a while, now we can focus on some even newer tunes. We’re always looking ahead to that next project … it will definitely sound different than Mantis, but we’re not sure which way it’s going to go.

RH: You’re entering your second decade as a band. How would you describe the evolution of the band as individual players? Obviously there’s been a massive growth with you guys.

AF: Yeah. I think we’ve all grown into becoming more patient players and being able to listen to each other. It all comes in time; it’s all part of playing together for so long. You start creating a deep chemistry for knowing what a certain person is going to play in a certain moment. Like, I know what drum fill Kris is going to play before he plays it just ‘cause I know his style so much.

Umphrey's McGee to Release Several Songs on the Rock Band Network


Umphrey's McGee is a progresive rock jam band based in Chicago, IL. I am excited to announce that I will be authoring several songs of theirs for release upon the launch of the Rock Band Network. More information about them can be found at their website.

Setlist: Umphrey's McGee 1.19.2010 Boise, Idaho

Set One (8:30pm MST): Red Tape, Nemo, Wappy Sprayberry > Uncommon, August (9:30)

Set Two (10:00): Prowler > White Man's Moccasins, Intentions Clear > Pay the Snucka, Wife Soup* > Hurt Bird Bath

Encore: Can't You Hear Me Knocking (11:15)

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