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Posts tagged “Umphrey’s Mcgee

My Very Umphrey Day Part 1 (Street Date Studios Performance)

I had been excited about seeing Umphrey’s Mcgee at the Nokia Theater for a few months. The band didn’t make a stop here on their last pass through the great north east, so I considered myself lucky to be able to see them this time around. Apparently I’m much luckier that I had realized…

I opened my e-mail Tuesday afternoon to see a message with the title ‘Congratulations, You’re Seeing Umphrey’s Mcgee LIVE!’, to which my reaction was ‘yes, I know, I’m seeing them Thursday night, but thank you anyway random spam in my inbox’. Still for some reason I was compelled to open the e-mail instead of tossing it directly into the archive. However, instead of seeing the usual ‘don’t forget to go to your concert, and also here’s 50 other concerts you should pay us to go see’ e-mail Ticketmaster sends out before shows, I was greeted with a pleasant message informing me that I had won a pass for myself and a guest to see Umphrey’s Mcgee perform at CBS Radio’s Street Date Studios the afternoon before their Nokia Theater show. After I stopped cheering, messaging everyone I knew about my luck, and singing ‘I’ve Got a Golden Ticket‘, I calmed down and responded, thanking the contest organizers and telling them I would be attending. Thus, two short days later…

My guest and I arrived at Street Date Studios fairly early, and after meeting the other golden ticket winners and bullshitting about the band for awhile we were ushered into a waiting area where we bullshitted some more as we waited for the the band to set up. Due to the giant block of ice and snow that had fallen from the sky over night the band was running a little late, but after about an hour of waiting we were ushered into Howard Stern’s former studio (to think I was standing next to the same couch where so many naked porn stars had sat before me was a moment I’ll never forget. No, I didn’t touch the couch) to view the performance. I wasn’t sure exactly what the set-up was going to be before now, and I imagined we were going to be behind a window or something watching the band play. As it turned out we ended up being IN THE STUDIO with the band, no more than 20 feet from the closest member. The studio wasn’t really set up to hold any kind of audience however, so we all huddled in a large corner by the door. As the tallest person there I ended up standing in the back, but I was able to snap some pretty good pictures which you can see below. Thank you in advance to the band and their management for letting us take pictures basically the whole time, and thank you to my roommate for letting me steal his camera:

The band getting ready. Kris's face has already started melting.

Launching into "1348". Jake was standing in a dark corner the whole time, and I wasn't able to use my flash for any of the photos. Who knew a radio studio wouldn't be properly lit for photography! The union will hear about this.

A poorly lit Jake solo...

and a well lit Brendan solo!

The only good photo of Kris that I got all day, with some Stasik and Bayliss thrown in.

Joel, being old

The band being interviewed after the performance. Yes, we were very close.

Stasik dreaming about one day taking a shower as Kris listens to the music in his head

The studio setting created a very interesting vibe of controlled energy. The band started out with a great version of 1348‘, probably their proggy-ist tune from their latest album Mantis, and they certainly performed it with the spirit you would find at any of their live shows. At the same time you’d probably able to convince me that I was listening to the album version of the track if I closed my eyes. I got the impression that the performance was a unique opportunity for the band, where they could feel comfortable in a closed setting while at the same time tap into the strength that they gain by playing in front of their fans.The result was a very special experience for the fans who were present, seeing the well oiled jamming machine that is Umphrey’s functioning at full capacity in an atmosphere that reminded me more of a coffee house than a raging concert.

Made to Measure‘ was next, which was also stellar. Some of the vocal harmonies at the end didn’t fit perfectly but it was still thoroughly enjoyable to witness. It was a bit of a shame that they were so strapped for time because I’m sure they would have loved to extend this song a little more, but the format and the weather dictated that they keep things brief. Lastly they busted out a cover of ‘Reelin in the Years‘ by Steely Dan, which they also covered at their New Years Eve show this past December in Chicago. Umphrey’s covers (which there are a LOT of) always have a way of deepening your appreciation for a song, or even turning you onto a song that you would not have otherwise enjoyed. Maybe a guitar line sticks out more, maybe the new vocal texture adds something, or maybe you just hadn’t heard the song in awhile. Whatever the case is, on this day the entire studio was rocking and it was difficult to keep from cheering at the end of the song until we got the signal from the sound board that we were clear to make noise.

Afterward the band did a quick interview with the radio station where the stereotypical questions were asked about their lives and their writing methods. I would have loved to ask the band some questions myself but we were ushered out quickly after that. I guess I’ll have to wait till I’m a legitimate music journalist before I can pester bands for a living. Departing the studio, I knew I had seen something really unique and felt lucky as all hell that I was able to witness the performance. We were told as we were leaving that we’d receive links to the recording of the performance (not sure if it’s going to be audio, video, or both) so as soon as I receive that I’ll have it up here for all to enjoy.

So concluded part one of my very Umphrey day. Part 2, their performance at the Nokia Theater only a few hours later, will be up in the next few days. Stay tuned!


Prog Happenings – November 4th

Prog Happenings will be a semi-regular summary of the various events that have punctuated the prog landscape recently, as well as some of my thoughts on each. Basically they’re the events that don’t justify an entire post, but are still worth talking about. So without further stalling:

Dream Theater Wins ‘Spirit of Prog’ Award at Classic Rock Awards (http://bit.ly/23iZRW)

This past Monday Classic Rock, a UK hard rock magazine, had their yearly Roll of Honor awards, and Dream Theater was presented with the ‘Spirit of Prog’ award. Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman presented the award to band leader and drummer Mike Portnoy and had some very high praise of the group during the presentation.

For all the crap I dish out on Mike Portnoy and Dream Theater on this blog, I’m glad they got this award. Without them prog would probably be a dead genre, and Portnoy in particular has done a lot to promote progressive music in the main stream. I personally wouldn’t have ever become enamored with the genre if it wasn’t for Dream Theater, so I think this award is absolutely deserved by the band. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop ripping them though.

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer Reform for Performance at High Voltage Festival in the UK(http://bit.ly/4hZq83)

ELP, one of the classic prog rock groups that your average music fan might at least recognize the name of if they were alive during the 70’s, will be reforming for one performance at the new High Voltage Festival being held next July in the UK.

Older prog fans are giddy with excitement over this. Personally I’m going to be interested in seeing how the band has aged. While they didn’t stop making music on their own, the group last performed together in the 1990s. I’m predicting that they won’t be lighting any more cannons on stage, MAYBE one if they’re feeling spry. Seriously, Greg Lake is one of my personal prog bass heroes, so I’m praying there will be a recording of this at some point.

Mars Volta Fire Drummer Thomas Pridgen. Maybe. Kind of. Anyone know if this actually happened?

Rumors are flying all over the web right now about the current status of the Mars Volta and their drummer Thomas Pridgen. A recent show was canceled with fans at the venue being told by security that the band had fired their drummer during sound check. The band and Prigden have been totally silent about the rumors thus far, which only adds to the speculation. Fans are fairly split right now on 1) whether or not this is true, 2) whether or not losing Pridgen would be a good or bad thing, and 3) who should take his place (Zach Hill and former drummer Jon Theodore seem to be the most popular choices).

I personally love Pridgen, so I hope these rumors are just that, rumors. That being said, the Mars Volta’s line-up has always been growing and shrinking on the whims of Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, so I’m preparing myself mentally for this rumor to be true. I’d love to see Theodore back with the group, as he’s a drummer with great energy, great chops, and a unique style behind the kit. However I’m guessing the door between Theodore and the band has been nailed, screwed, and welded shut, so I don’t expect that reunion to happen any time soon. Keeping my eye on this one…

Between the Buried and Me/Cynic/The Devin Townsend Project/Scale the Summit Announce US Tour (http://bit.ly/8IDu0)

Almost as if to prove that progressive rock is starting to flourish in the US again, fans will be able to feast on this prog smorgasbord starting in January of 2010.  BTBAM have seen an absolutely huge growth in their popularity since appearing as a supporting act on last year’s Progressive Nation tour, large enough that they are headlining this tour that contains two other prog heavyweights, Cynic and Devin Townsend.

Cynic is a band no one in the world knows outside of prog historians, as they recorded one integral album in the history of prog before disbanding. Their reunion was something prog fans have been asking for for over a decade, so the fact that they’re serving as a supporting act here is kind of surprising. Devin Townsend is one of progressive rock’s mad scientists (in fact, I think we ONLY have mad scientists). Some consider him to be a more metal, more more balding, more Canadian Frank Zappa. He’s one of the darlings of the prog online community, and living proof of how the internet has impacted the genre. Scale the Summit is another beneficiary of the Progressive Nation tour, having been the opening act on this past year’s US leg. They’re very young but many people see this as being a good thing, and predict many quality albums in their future as the band continues to mature.

A comical, probably unintentional coincidence on this tour is that it features bands with growling vocals (BTBAM), computerized vocals (Cynic), weird-ass vocals (Devin Townsend), and no vocals (Scale the Summit). If you’re the kind of person who’s bothered when the douche bag next to you at a concert is singing louder than the band, you won’t have any problems on this tour.

Umphrey’s Mcgee S2 Shows Walk The Line Between Progressive and Hippie Bullshit (http://bit.ly/2zNYtv)

Progressive jam band Umphrey’s Mcgee has come up with a very…creative concept for some of their shows. Their “Stew Art Series” lets fans suggest themes that the band then uses as inspiration for a totally improvised concert. Fans can use cue cards, text messaging, and other media to suggest themes before and even during the show, and it’s up to the band to them turn these concepts into music.

While I think this is certainly a ‘progressive’ effort, I’m unsure of whether or not this will actually translate into quality music. UM is absolutely the band to undertake this effort, as I think they’re among the best improv jamers on the planet, but this just seems like an exercise in hippie silliness to me. To be fair I’ve only heard the samples from the first show that the band has provided on their blog, so I don’t know what the overall product has sounded like so far. The list of themes I’ve seen fans come up with have also been fairly entertaining, like ‘mudslide on mars’ and ‘Chaka Khan at an Iron Maiden show’.

Cracked Tells You How to Be a Prog Rocker (http://bit.ly/2FYtec)

While I wanted to cover most of this in the second half of my post on Stereotypes in Prog rock, cracked.com has done a great job in poking fun at the genre I love. Check it out if you want a good laugh. Now I just need to figure out how I can write the second half of that post without looking like I blatantly plagiarized from this…

Thank you!

A ton of people have started reading this blog in the past few days, so I just wanted to say thank you to anyone who stops by. Hopefully you like what you see and will keep coming back to read my bullshit.

Invasion of the prog-lodytes: Examples of how progressive rock is sneaking into new genres of music

What years of listening to Rush records in your mothers basement can do to your complexion.

What years of listening to Rush records in your mother's basement can do to your complexion.

Prog has always claimed that it was ‘music for musicians’. It’s a pretty attractive label, and much better than the alternative ‘music for geeks who aren’t getting laid’. Regardless of the tag-line, the point is that even if you don’t actively listen to progressive rock, chances are that the bands you DO listen to count progressive rock artists among their influences. When young bands (that don’t suck) are talking to the press and the reporter asks them who their influences are, if they’re brave enough to mention people outside their own genre 90% of the time the drummer will include Neil Peart and/or Mike Portnoy, bass players will mention Geddy Lee, Tony Levin, and/or Chris Squire, and keyboard…well…ok, if they have a keyboard player, chances are he isn’t being given any face time unless he’s also the front man and super duper pretty (guitarists gets more genre dependent, but I see Steve Vai’s, David Gilmour’s, Frank Zappa’s, and Steve Howe’s names thrown out a lot).

So what happened to all these progressive-rock-influenced artists? How come none of them ended up making progressive rock? The answer is that you are simply being a naive fool. Progressive rock has worked long and hard to covertly work its way into more mainstream genres, and the fruits of decades of labor are now beginning to ripen. Below you will find examples of some genres where artists are now becoming popular who show significant signs that they’ve been infected with the prog.


What, no corpsepaint for the baby?

What, no corpsepaint for the baby?

Metal was one of the earliest and easiest genres for prog to branch into. For one, a lot of metal musicians are extremely talented. I realize that, to people who aren’t fans of metal, a lot of the music just sounds like loud noise and unintelligible lyrics, but under the growling and the corpsepaint you’ll find some of the most technically skilled musicians around. Good metal guitarists can play diminished augmented pentatonic chords using alternate sweep picking just as fast as the proggy-ist prog douche bag guitar player, they just chose not to so because it’s not brutal enough (note: metal people judge all things on a scale of 1-brutal). Metal drummers and prog drummers are in an eternal pissing contest over who can play double bass faster, and just like how metal singers and prog singers are always trying to see how high they can sing without causing a sonic boom. Also, they put equal emphasis on physical activity and hygiene in their personal lives. So prog and metal have been pushing each other’s buttons for a very very long time, and the results have been enjoyable for both fan bases:

Examples of prog/metal marriages:

Dream Theater – Basically the flag bearer for progressive rock. Train of Thought is their most metal album, but every album has significant metal overtones through out. Scenes from a Memory is widely considered to be one of the best prog album of the 1990’s if not of all time. (Dream Theater Example – “Painc Attack”)

Opeth – If Dream Theater is a prog band with metal overtones, Opeth is a death metal band with prog overtones. The band drifts between melodic haunting passages and crushing metal destruction almost too freely. If you can’t handle cookie monster-style vocals you’d best start with Damnation which is their ‘mellow’ album, but then quickly get Deliverance and give that a spin as well. (Opeth Example – Death Whispered a Lulaby, and then The Drapery Falls)

Other prog/metal bands (and their albums that you should check out):

Symphony X –  V (Example: “Inferno”)

Fates WarningInside Out (Example: “One“)

Queensryche Operation: Mindcrime (Example: “Spreading the Disease”)

ToolLateralus (Example: “Sober”)

Between the Buried and Me Colors (Example: “White Walls”)

Scale the Summit Carving Desert Canyons (Example: “Dunes”)

Pain of Salvation One Hour by the Concrete Lake (Example: Inside)

Coheed and Cambria (Example: “Welcome Home”)


Above him, Led Zeppelin was stealing his music

Above him, Led Zeppelin was stealing his music

The other genre that prog was able to easily seduce was jazz. Jazz has been the most popular kid in school basically forever. Everyone wants to claim that they’re influenced by jazz, or that they have jazz tendencies, or that they once slept with jazz at a party but jazz wouldn’t remember it because jazz was really drunk that night. No matter how much jazz wants to deny it, jazz and prog did in fact hook up a few times in the 60s and 70s, resulting in the genre fusion. If you know jazz, think of Kind of Blue. Fusion is the exact opposite of that. It’s fast, complicated, crazy shit that most of the time sounds like a bad jam session made up of really good musicians (note: I love fusion). If someone tried to dance to fusion they’d be mistaken for a seizure victim and taken to a hospital. The people who play fusion are of course ridiculously talented to the point where they could probably have a full conversation with each other using only their instruments. One problem fusion inherited from jazz  is that any band that considers itself to have drawn from jazz and some other genre automatically considers itself to be ‘fusion’. What can I say, jazz was a whore:

Examples of prog/jazz marriages:

Mahavishnu Orchestra – If there was ever a band that sounded like an acid trip, I’d pick Mahavishnu Orchestra. Drawing from Indian, European, jazz, and classical music, as well as John McLaughlin’s own eccentricity, the music they produced was frantic, intensely complex, and mind blowing once you manage to wrap your brain around it. Birds of Fire and Apocalypse may be the best characterizations of the band’s sound, but if you don’t enjoy either album that’s fine, you’re probably still too sane. (Mahavishnu Orchestra Example: “Trilogy”)

Frank Zapppa – I’m not even going to try to explain Frank Zappa in three lines. I don’t even know if I can call the majority of what he did ‘fusion’ but he’s fucking important and he fits best here. Go listen to Hot Rats, Roxy and Elsewhere and Apostrophe, and if you don’t like those don’t worry about it, there’s about five billion other albums that sound totally different that you can get into. (Frank Zappa Example: “Waka/Jawaka”)

Other prog/jazz bands (and their albums that that you should check out):

The Mars VoltaFrancis the Mute (Example: “Wax Simulacra”)

The Dixie DregsNight of the Living Dregs (Example: “Assembly Line”)

Liquid Tension Experiment Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (Example: “Biaxadent)

Jam Bands

There wasnt actually any mud. Hippies are just this dirty.

There wasn't actually any mud. Hippies are just this dirty.

Unlike jazz and metal, prog hasn’t shared a lot of common ground with the jam scene. The Grateful Dead were thoroughly un-complicated and yet they became extremely popular by touring their asses off and playing a lot of simple country and blues covers in cool new ways  (making them…….progressive? MY BRAIN CAN’T HANDLE THAT). For a long time hippies were content bopping along to country and blues music, and probably would have been fine like this forever, until Phish came along and expanded the genre by writing songs that made as little sense as possible. Moving from the relatively comfortable confines of country and blues to the total nonsense that Phish produced (note: I love Phish) blew hippie’s minds. So hippie musicians, being totally incapable of rejecting any art form, started incorporating every possible genre of music into the covers they played, into their huge and totally awesome music festivals, and eventually into their own music. Alternative and bluegrass were some of the first genres to gain popularity with hippies, then some electronica and punk weaved its way in, and now metal and prog are starting to poke their heads in as well:

Examples of prog/jam band marriages:

Umphrey’s Mcgee – UM is the cream of the crop as far as blending technical skill and musicality. It’s really an amazing balancing act that they pull off, and they do it flawlessly. I also find their live improv stuff to be far less meandering and self indulgent than a lot of other jam bands. Anchor Drops is the place you start for their studio efforts, but after that I suggest downloading their eight billion podcasts, as a lot of their best songs haven’t ever been recorded in the studio. Honestly I’m not even going to bother discussing other prog/jam band marriages in depth, Umphrey’s is really the top of the line and an experience like no other. (Umphreys Mcgee Example: “Bridgeless”)

Other prog/jam bands (and their albums that you should check out):

The Disco Biscuits Uncivilized Area (Example – “I-man”)

Keller Williams Laugh (Example – “Freeker by the Speeker)

moe.Wormwood (Example – “Crab Eyes”)

Oysterhead The Grand Pecking Order (Example – “Mr. Oysterhead”)


A tradional bluegrass band. Guitar, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and no black people.

A tradional bluegrass band. Guitar, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and no black people.

I’m going to be upfront about this. I hate country music more than any other genre of music on the planet. Most of the performers are talentless and I think the stereotypes it generates are more damaging to rednecks than gangster rap is to urban youth. That being said, I also think the slide guitar/dobro, mandolin, and banjo are some of the coolest instruments ever. So I compromise and enjoy bluegrass. Bluegrass to me, is what happened to all the talented southern musicians. They sing about all the same topics the crappy country artists do, but their songs are ten million times more interesting and their lyrics are ten million times more creative. To be honest I don’t know if bluegrass is actually even aware of progressive rock, but both genres are fast, technical, and full of energy, so if they haven’t met maybe I can help.

Examples of prog/bluegrass marriages:

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – This band probably only gets lumped in with bluegrass because it features a banjo. It’s also probably one of the few, if not only bluegrass band to include sax and electronic drums (note: electronic drums that are actually awesome, unlike most electronic kits which sound horrible). All of that being said, Bela Fleck might be the most well known and universally respected banjo player ever (even more than Steve Martin!), and Victor Wooten is part of the pantheon of modern bass gods. Kind of bluegrass, kind of fusion, whatever, it’s extremely creative and fun to listen to. Little Worlds is a 3-disc set that’s probably less bluegrass-y than their past efforts, but it’s a great introduction to their sound. (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Example: “Next”)

Yonder Mountain String Band – The shining symbol of ‘new grass‘, YMSB is talented and technically proficient and blah blah blah, but that’s probably the least attended to part of their music. What makes them such an incredible band is how they’ve taken bluegrass out of the realm of genres like polka (i.e. dance music that’s a joke to most people) and made it emotional and joyful. I’ve never seen so many universally happy people in my entire life as I’ve seen at YMSB shows. The crowd just emits rainbows and sunshine and good emotions. They make 80 year old men act like 10 year olds on their birthday, and the coolest hipster turns into a Appalachian mountain dweller before their onslaught of elation. Mountain Tracks: Volume 5 is a great selection of live tracks to check out, and their new album The Show is pretty solid. (Yonder Mountain String Band Example: Sideshow Blues)

Other prog/bluegrass bands (and their albums that you should check out)

Railroad EarthAmen Corner (Example: “Seven Story Mountain”)

Hopefully this has given you a decent idea of how prog isn’t actually as alien a genre as one might think. There’s a lot of common ground between prog and genres that are far more popular, and there has been and will continue to be bleeding between groups as new bands find their own unique sounds.

P.S. – I do want to mention one band that I left out, that being Muse. Muse has a totally absurd amount of popularity for a band that prog fans consider to be ‘one of us’. It’s not super duper technical, but it at least creates the illusion of being super duper technical, and sometimes that’s good enough. It is high energy and features a guy who sings high enough to make the guy from The Darkness jealous so I guess the leap in prog-faith isn’t too absurd.  I can’t really explain why the rest of the world loves them, not that I’m complaining either. So I guess if a band like Muse can be touring with U2 and performing on the VMAs then I can still hope that prog will take over all of music one day. A man can dream can’t he…a man can dream…