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 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 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…
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.