Umphrey's McGee will share song roots at House of Blues
Umphrey’s McGee is always looking for the next big thing to make its fans feel as connected to the Chicago-based jam band as possible. Events such as the UM Bowl and the band's “Stew Art” concert series have given fans the ability to manipulate the group's live set through online votes and texts in just about every context imaginable. So, it’s a little weird to think that an intimate “Storytellers”-style acoustic set, scheduled for a sold-out L.A. crowd Friday, is uncharted territory for the band.
“It’s definitely the first time we’ve done anything like this, as far as stripping back the layers of some of the meanings of our songs,” said keyboard player Joel Cummins.
On Friday, the band rolls into the House of Blues in West Hollywood for a double-set performance beginning with a low-key matinee set its members are calling “True Hollywood Stories.” However, unlike the popular E! documentary series, we’re not sure how much murder and scandal will be involved. But we do expect plenty of witty banter between jams.
"And there's plenty of embarrassing stories in there, as far as songs we've written," Cummins said.
The band is making its first L.A. stop since the release of “Death by Stereo” in September 2011. For Cummins, who recently moved to Venice from the band’s home base in Chicago, this will be his first hometown show as an Angeleno. And although surf and sun in the wintertime have been a welcome change from Midwest snowstorms, Cummins says L.A. has been a difficult market for Umphrey’s McGee to crack, with its sandal-wearing, virtuosic fusion of world music, folk and progressive rock, despite its enormous following at festivals throughout the country.
“I’d say it wasn’t until 2008 or 2009 where we’ve really started to see the audience get more enthusiastic and excited about the shows,” Cummins said. “I think there’s a bit of a learning curve in understanding a lot of what it is we’re trying to do.”
On Friday, the first show is a matinee acoustic set, followed by an amplified marathon show infused with tripped-out jams, laser lights and the exploration of what Cummins and the band have characterized as the new sound that pervades “Death by Stereo" and its ghostly, synth-slathered funk song “Booth Love,” which premiered on Pop & Hiss.
“The band is simultaneously heading in two different directions,” Cummins said. "One of them is a little more straight ahead and dancey and the other is a little heavier, more progressive. Since the album release, they’ve all grown and expanded... and we’re playing them as well as we ever have.”
-- Nate Jackson
Photo: Umphrey's McGee members, left to right, Andy Farag, Jake Cinninger, Joel Cummins, Brendan Bayliss, Kris Myers and Ryan Stasik. Credit: Chad Smith