Umphrey’s McGee enters its second decade with the fresh kill of Mantis

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:: Umphrey's Mc Gee ::
:: Aggie Theatre :: Jan. 22 ::
:: Boulder Theater :: Jan. 23 ::
:: Fillmore Auditorium :: Jan. 24 ::
:: North Indiana Allstars feat. members of Umphrey’s McGee :: Cervantes Masterpiece :: Jan. 24 :: (late nite) ::

By Lisa Oshlo

Starting on their second decade as a band, Umphrey’s McGee is continuing to gather momentum like some of the great bands that have come before them. In fact, as their new album Mantis demonstrates, they continue to push their limits and are continually looking to evolve their sound.

Mantis (to be released on January 20) is their darkest and heaviest album to date and showcases these influences more readily than their previous releases. Recorded over 20 months in their home base of Chicago and kept completely under the radar until this tour, Mantis promises to be an exciting album for hardcore fans and newbies alike.
The Marquee had the opportunity to speak with keyboardist Joel Cummins about their latest effort, as well as everything new in the world of Umphrey’s McGee.

“Mantis ended up being this really intricate, dense record, and definitely the best music we’ve put together to date,” said Cummins. “It’s made up of completely new songs that we’ve never played live before, which is something that our audience won’t fully expect. We usually tend to road-test the songs and then tweak them in the studio. But it was different with this album, and I think we’ve really captured the personality of what the band is at its core.”

Umphrey’s McGee was formed in the shadow of the Notre Dame campus in 1997 by guitarist/vocalist Brendan Bayliss, bassist Ryan Stasik, keyboardist Cummins, and drummer Mike Mirro (who left the band to attend medical school in late 2002). Since that time, they have added percussionist Andy Farag and guitarist Jake Cinninger, and replaced Mirro with jazz drummer Kris Meyers.

While they are often lumped in the ubiquitous “jamband” category, the band is actually far more influenced by progressive rock bands like King Crimson, Frank Zappa, and Pink Floyd.

For a band whose reputation was bolstered by the strength of its live shows and the enthusiasm of its fans, it has been difficult for Umphrey’s McGee to keep the new music under wraps, but Cummins thinks fans’ anticipation will be rewarded. “It’s definitely unprecedented for us to have this much new material, so this tour should be really exciting,” said Cummins.

One of Umphrey’s greatest strengths is their ability to improvise onstage, bringing new life to songs that have been played countless times before. It is meticulous work, and one to which the band devotes much time and energy.  Cummins described aspects of this process: “One cool, creative tool is to identify sections as places to break off and improvise. So over a song’s life there might be five or six different sections that change, and I think that’s really exciting for us and just as exciting for our fans, because you just never know when these spots are going to pop up.” While they prepare heavily in advance, they also rely on each other in the moment for direction. “Once we’re onstage we have kind of an elaborate system of communicating with each other which includes hand signals and body language, like a baseball coach,” said Cummins. “Some things are more composed and some are more open-ended, where anyone can take the lead. On any given night, something different is going to happen no matter what. Usually it happens really organically.”
Despite their playing three shows on the Front Range, Cummins promises the fans completely different setlists from night to night. While they will certainly highlight the new material, they will also be playing many older tunes, covers, and fan favorites.

In addition to their vast catalogue of original music, Umphrey’s McGee has notoriously good taste in cover songs, which they play with and make their own. “We like to play covers that we’ve heard and liked, but maybe haven’t heard live before,” said Cummins. “We like to do the songs that will really surprise our fans. Anything from Metallica And Justice For All to a Daft Punk song or something like that. We really try to morph the sound so we can get as close as we can to authentically recreating the song. Fortunately, we have guys in the band who have everything from classical training to having drummers and guitarists that have played every type of music from metal to country, so we can really have some fun with it.”

While Chicago is still home-base for the band, Cummins said that Umphrey’s McGee looks forward to playing on the Front Range.

“This will be the first time we’ve played at the Boulder Theater, which will be a really cool thing for us,” said Cummins. “We’ve played the Fox since about 1999, so it’ll be nice to step into a little bigger room with all the new production we’re bringing out. And yet it will still be an intimate experience. We’ve definitely got the the best light show that we’ve ever had coming out on the road with us, and in addition to that, I think the new album is going to feature some pretty cool vocal arrangements that are a little more dense than what we’ve done in the past. We’ve been holding onto this material so long, it’s been killing us not to play it live.’

:: Umphrey’s Mc Gee ::
:: Aggie Theatre :: Jan. 22 ::
:: Boulder Theater :: Jan. 23 ::
:: Fillmore Auditorium :: Jan. 24 ::
:: North Indiana Allstars feat. members of Umphrey’s McGee :: Cervantes Masterpiece :: Jan. 24 :: (late nite) ::

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