Umphrey’s McGee be jammin’

Bill Antonucci

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, Chicago-based jam band Umphrey’s McGee invaded Toad’s Place for a special Valentine’s Day show, proving to New Haven exactly why some listeners have dubbed Umphrey’s “the next great jam band.”

Most jam bands today tend to use their live shows for musical exploration. Umphrey’s McGee, on the other hand, use their live show as more of a musical celebration. The band switches genres like musical chairs, seamlessly incorporating everything from jazz to rock, trance to funk. Most impressive about Umphrey’s is their approach to their jams. Most jam bands improvise around several chords until something sounds right. Umphrey’s has many impressive choreographed jams, such as set opener “Example 1” which switch keys and time measures on the drop of a dime. This is obviously an ode to 70’s progressive rock bands such as Yes and King Crimson, who Umphrey’s cite as major influences.

These Chicago jammers also have a keen penchant for writing catchy rock ‘n roll songs. Songs like “Uncommon” and “Women, Wine and Song” gave the crowd a break from dancing to simply just sing along with the band. But there is no doubt that Umphrey’s is at their best when they let the music do the talking. The highlight of the first set came in the form of a 40-minute jam that saw them segueing from “Plunger,” to “Last Man Swerving,” “Jimmie Stewart” and finally “Mail Package.” During this time, the crowd went from a minimal amount of dancing to a sea of bobbing heads and waving hands.

The second set was better set of the show. Every once and awhile a band comes on the scene hitting their stride and creating something so insanely powerful that words rarely describe it. When this happens, the crowd and the band are basically one, with the band feeding the music as audience spits it back as a form of energy that is used as fuel to keep the music coming. The second set was one of those moments.

Umphrey’s teased the crowd with intro’s from AC/DC and The Rolling Stones as well as an impromptu jam on Aerosmith’s “Janies Got a Gun,” with the word Janie replaced with Cheney, referencing the Vice President’s recent incident. The band then whipped the crowd into an absolute frenzy during a wicked version of “Mulch’s Odyssey.” Guitar players Brandon Bayliss and Jake Cinniger climbed a figurative mountain with their guitar work, slowly escalating higher and higher with each measure while at the same time shredding so hard on their fretboards it is surprising no one got burned in the front row. The band then started on the opening riff of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” The crowd went wild as Umphrey’s once again showed us where the roots of their music come from.

When the final note rang out for the night, the crowd erupted in to a sea of cheers. No one in the crowd cared about having a Valentine because the boys Umphrey’s McGee made sure everyone went to bed satisfied.