Umphrey’s McGee: All In Time
Dean Budnick | March 16, 2018
“What About ‘Bob?’”
This is the question that Umphrey’s McGee co-founder Brendan Bayliss poses with a laugh from the confines of his music room in Chicago. He’s just returned home to spend a couple of days with his wife and three young children, following a whirlwind stretch in Manhattan that included multiple press opportunities in support of the band’s new album, it’s not us, as well as a three-night stand at the Beacon Theatre.
The group’s concluding show coincided with a significant date in its history. Twenty years earlier, on Jan. 21, 1998, singer/guitarist Bayliss took the stage alongside fellow Notre Dame students—bassist Ryan Stasik, keyboardist Joel Cummins and drummer Mike Mirro—at Bridget McGuire’s Filling Station in South Bend, Ind., for Umphrey’s McGee’s premiere performance. OK, technically, they may have been called Fat Tony, after the gangster in The Simpsons but, for all intents and purposes, this was UM’s opening salvo.
When the band stepped onstage for its anniversary on Jan. 21, 2018, the original four- piece had long since morphed into a sextet, with Bayliss, Stasik and Cummins joined by guitarist/singer Jake Cinninger, drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag. Still, the band members’ collective aims and objectives hadn’t varied markedly from those of the four undergrads who had left their prior groups, fused into a new project, relocated to Chicago after graduation and then steadily expanded their ambit across the continent.
To underscore this point, Bayliss addressed the audience and the occasion: “On behalf of the band and the crew, I just want to thank you for the last 20 years. It’s still very surreal to us and, because of you, our dreams became our reality. So, thank you so much. Tonight, we’re going to take you backward through time over the last 20 years. We’re going to play a song that we debuted each year over the last 20 years. We’re gonna start with something new and we’re gonna end with something old. And we hope you like it.”
With that, the group launched into “Half Delayed,” the meditative, alluring fourth track from it’s not us.
By the time setbreak arrived at the Beacon, many fans both in person and online started speculating as to what rarities the band might unearth as UM moved through the progression that Cummins later described, with a nod to Phish, as “going backwards down the debut line.”
At Bridget McGuire’s in January 1998, the group took the bold step of opening the show with the Bayliss/Stasik original “Bob,” a tune that also would appear a few months later on the band’s debut album, Greatest Hits Volume III. Umphrey’s had shelved the song by mid-1999, subsequently performing it once in 2000 and another time in 2003 before resuscitating it for a final appearance 10 years later.
Yet, on this occasion, Umphrey’s opted to go another way. The evening culminated with “All in Time,” a composition that the group had first performed at its fourth gig on Feb. 7, 1998 at Benchwarmers, a sports bar in South Bend.
So what about “Bob?”
“I didn’t even give it a chance,” Bayliss acknowledges. “In the beginning, it’s more about quantity; you’re trying to fill two hours. But over time, you develop the skill of songwriting and you have a better filter to gauge what’s good and what’s bad. So while there’s something to be said about nostalgia, about the novelty of revisiting an old memory, there’s also something to be said about quality and pride. From the very beginning, we’ve been concerned about winning over new ears, and playing ‘Bob’ is just not going to do that.”
However, the material on it’s not us just might. A range of media outlets attested to this by extending invitations to Umphrey’s during the group’s Manhattan press days. Indeed, the new record maintains the eclecticism and ambition of the band’s earliest efforts as refracted through two decades of evolving songcraft and studio command.