Umphrey’s McGee: Ordinary Kids Doing Extraordinary Things (Relix Revisited)
Umphrey’s McGee will perform at Catalpa this weekend and then it’s off to sUMmer School. With the latter event in mind we offer something from our own reading list: Richard Gehr’s 2005 cover story on the group.
Up in the stratospheric fishbowl of a swinging lakeside bachelor pad he rents from his parents, Umphrey’s McGee bassist Ryan Stasik is throwing a little cocktail party prior to a Yonder Mountain String Band show at Chicago’s House of Blues that most of his guests plan to attend. His house drink is Budweiser. The entertainment consists of a twisted little device that provides a short, sharp electric shock to anyone foolish enough to clutch it. And the guest list includes a bunch of more or less ordinary Midwestern twentysomethings, members of the band and its crew, some of whose ties extend back to grade school.
Umphrey’s keyboardist Joel Cummins is among the first to arrive. Newly single himself, he will mysteriously disappear en route to the show. Before doing so, though, he reminisces about the ongoing Spinal Tap-ocity of Umphrey’s career to date, beginning with the first show he ever played with Stasik, guitarist Brendan Bayliss, and original Umphrey’s drummer Mike Mirro: The time was January 21, 1998, and the place a dilapidated shack of a hole in South Bend, Indiana, called Bridget McGuire’s Filling Station. Joel laughingly describes the band’s power cutting out five notes into their first song, “Bob.” A male stripper hired for the occasion did his thing in celebration of Stasik’s future ex-girlfriend’s, ahem, nineteenth birthday. And the evening concluded with the bemused band watching a car crash into a telephone pole as they loaded out their equipment. “The guys just got out and ran into a field,” Cummins recalls.
Now, you might think those early days of mockumental tomfoolery would be long gone. After all, esteemed jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman temporarily joined the group, at his request, for several sizzling February shows. In June, the sextet’s late-night Bonnaroo set was a memorably epic four-hour shred fest. Later that month, the band released Anchor Drops (its fourth album but first with national distribution), a tightly composed, organically flowing, yet ass-kickingly immediate example of newfound studio smarts. And in August, Umphrey’s McGee was anointed nothing less than “the leading contenders for Phish’s jam-smeared crown” by no less an authority on all things rockist than Rolling Stone. Umphrey’s now regularly sells out venues in and around its chosen hometown, including the aforementioned House of Blues. And, most important, the band has rebounded solidly from the departure of its original drummer and is now making what all members agree is the most satisfying and promising music of their career with new sticksman Kris Meyer.
You might think so, but no. “Bob” was at least partially to blame as recently as September 2003, when the Niles, Michigan, police department prematurely evacuated the band from the Niles Riverfront Amphitheater stage shortly after the song had been played for the first time in four years. Claiming they were “disturbing the peace,” the police pulled the plug on what was supposed to have been a “Rest in Peace” show for a bunch of Fat Tony songs the band intended to retire from its permanent rotation. And since the show was a freebie sponsored by the city of Niles itself, Cummins cracks up at the absurdity of “the city’s cops shutting down their own show!”
And that’s not all. Earlier this year, the band found itself on the same course as Hurricane Ivan, whose wet wildness led to canceled shows in New Orleans and one muddy festival after another. As the band heads out on a two-week West Coast tour, Cummins wonders if the jaunt he now refers to as the Natural Disaster 2004 Tour will culminate in a volcanic rendezvous with Washington’s Mt. St. Helen, whose lovely lava dome has been growing steadily in recent weeks. And why not? Stranger things have happened over the life of this still relatively young but increasingly fascinating group of musical whirlpool surfers.
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
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