At Brooklyn Bowl, 02, Greenwich, June 19, 2014
"You go to a night with Umphrey's McGee and you never know exactly what moods they're going to get out of you. They're constantly setting the bar higher for themselves. The band's signals, the non–verbal signs to each other, show what a tight unit they are. They're constantly setting the bar higher for themselves." So said Sam from Wisconsin, a lady from South Bend, Indiana, who was watching Umphrey's McGee as they began a three–night residency at the Brooklyn Bowl in the O2 in Greenwich, under the curved roof of the former Millennium Dome. This venue is literally part–music room – big bar, big space, big lights, big sound – and part close–by ten–pin bowling alley. The rumble and crash of possible strikes could be heard between songs.
Sam spoke with authority, for she was seeing Umphrey's McGee for the one hundred and seventy–sixth time (yes, 176 times). The band is accustomed to selling out venues in the US. Here they played to a shrunken crowd, as the televised drama of England's soccer team losing to Uruguay in the World Cup sucked the local audience away. However, America – and the audience were almost all Americans – did the band proud, rockin' out in what was a rare 'intimate' gig where everyone could get up close and personal.
The band were preceded by Welsh outfit Godsticks, who provided a contrasting, often darker, more sinister set, but with power and variety to it, and they attracted warm American applause. In closing, lead singer Darran Charles told the crowd, 'You're in for a treat.' But they knew that already.
Umphrey McGee's music is a blend of Rock, Jazz, Funk, Grunge and more, and to label them, as they are, Prog, is too simplistic. The riffs and sounds of bands such as Deep Purple, Journey and Thin Lizzy pop up in unexpected places. They have two drummers, one who covers bongos as well, a keyboard man who spent the night facing towards, sideways, or away from the audience as the keys he was using dictated, a bass player resplendent in leopard–spotted baseball cap, and two guitarists. Of those two, Brendan Bayliss is a quality singer and showed it all night. Though it was the bass player, Ryan Stasik, who provided the band's own insight into their playing, through the message on his T–shirt, which read, 'Umphreys's Fucking Rocks.' They do, and they did, though at times playing with real feeling and delicacy and lightness alongside the power sections.
The well–informed audience relished the extensive improv sections in Umphrey's playing, and these were used to string together and flow in and out of tracks such as 'In The Kitchen' and 'Final Word'. The Umphrey's live original and covers songbook is extensive and that showed here. With the improvisations it was often hard to tell where one song ended and another began. Sam, surely, doesn't care, and she will soon join them for the one hundred and seventy–seventh time.
Umphrey's McGee website: umphreys.com
That extensive songbook: allthings.umphreys.com/song