Pardon the Interlude: Umphrey’s plays Buster’s
By Alex Sardam
Amidst the menacing icicles and chilling conditions that have been present in the weeks prior, Buster’s Billiards & Backroom once again warmly welcomed the exquisitely insane and curiously talented Umphrey’s McGee to openly melt faces and blow minds at last Thursday night’s show.
The South Bend natives didn’t stop at simply nodding their heads in acceptance to the humble offering from the local venue, playing a mediocre show, generating a sympathetic round of applause and just peacing out once their checks were in hand.
No, no, no, the band concocted a genre-bending show complete with not one, but two epic sets, opening “The Crooked One” with a “Honky Tonk Woman” tease and of course, Ryan Stasik’s much acclaimed mustache.
The place was buzzing-no roaring-as the fog machine slyly rolled out a thick cloud of smog carpet, regally governing the band to their designated spots of residence under the electric, yet dimmed down hue of the overhead lights. A mere moment seemingly insignificant to some, captured the most perfect, candid of snapshots for Umphrey’s McGee’s performance that night at Buster’s, and beyond, as dedicated, meant-to-be-musicians.
It wasn’t flashy nor showy as the guys genuinely claimed their territory on the small stage, rattling into their premier set with “Gurgle.” The raucous and often inaudible crowd chants of “Umphrey’s” amplified with each shake, thump, downbeat and snare that the band began whirling out.
The song’s endurance increased, rotating up and eventually spinning this gradual build of dank funk into “Room to Breathe” which immediately kicked off with a steady bass lick provided by Stasik. In true Umphrey’s form, without giving the audience “room to breathe”-pun intended-guitarist, Jake Cinninger took into his guitar, leaping off the unwavering bass foundation Mr.Mustache successively pounded out, vibing a very Rage Against The Machine, “Bulls on Parade” jacked-up mood.
But instantly, when it seemed the song’s tone has been unveiled and ultimately pegged, the guys pulled a fast one, switching things up, never ending on the same note. This clever, mechanical technique embodies the essence of how Umphrey’s constructs songs in both a studio and live environment. Their songs follow the unpredictable movement of roller coasters, gradually climbing higher, juking listeners out with fixed pauses and upside-down jams of often opposing personalities-and damn, does it work brilliantly for them.
The set continued with the start of “Nothing Too Fancy” once again building this spectacular movement of rising sound.
Then, “Alex’s House” reeled the line back in with a slowed down pace, yet ever-alive electric guitar jam and beach-y vocals. In this song, it’s easy to compare the lightness of the voclas to that of fellow jam band-er, Trey Anastasio of Phish. But really, it’s in this sparse moment that there is any real correlation between the two bands. While Phish’s talent is equally present in their product, Umphrey’s brings a saucier serving to the table, often rebelliously resting their elbows on the fine linen beneath them.
The show developed, eventually dishing out a whopping 18 minute rendition of “In the Kitchen.” As the song unfolded, a hint of “Stairway to Heaven” was mischievously sprinkled in, barely catching the attention of the charged up crowd. The beat grew, then introduced lead singer, Brendan Bayliss’s voice. The drums rapidly launched into it’s own world, piloting a ship that would soon be boarded by the remaining members of the band. The energy from the outrageous swell was poisonous yet impossible not to voluntarily swallow down without any lingering regrets.
Just as the song couldn’t expand in any one direction for not a millisecond longer, the boys slid back into “Nothing Too Fancy” deliciously bringing an end to first set of the night and the held breaths of every exhilarated fan in the building, watching on with a glazed over astonishment.
The best part? The show was only just getting started.
While dissecting what the band brings to the table compositionally, it’s hard to view this quasi-Frankenstein creation as something that could generate a breath of life, let alone a solid, sustained one.
However, once the electricity is introduced to the band’s individualized musical heartbeat, the method behind such great madness is awakened.
Alone, the genres, moods and sounds that typically comprise an Umphrey’s song don’t fully gain it’s worthiness in effect until the shock jolts the beast, bringing to life the true creativity of such a sculpted masterpiece.
It was earlier in the show, in that singular moment when Umphrey’s first trailed onto the stage that the audience could just sense that indisputable energy stirring, bubbling up and unapologetically seeping out of the pores of each member of the band.
Once they steadied their feet into those magnetically charged, staked spots, it felt as if that moment had been habitually rehearsed. Never before had I experienced a non-musical moment that conjured up such an overwhelming feeling of rightness and precision. Umphrey’s McGee is not only fun and not only good, Umphrey’s McGee is right.
While music’s most beloved, cherished gift it selflessly delivers to it’s listeners is subjectivity, the band itself, in their most minuscule of actions are the exact opposite. They are meant to be musicians. They are supposed to play what they do and when they do it with the sounds they fuse. They are the whole truth Umphrey’s McGee is music.
Witnessing a performance by individuals that invent such a mesh-able, cosmic occurrence of sounds in a vast multitude of arrangements is something any true music junkie needs to get a fix of. And fast.