Umphreys-McGee-UM2010-Deco-logo-and-logotype-by-Kyle-Baker03LIVE AT THE PARAMOUNT NY

Photos by Momma Dukes

ARTIST BIO:  Umphrey’s McGee Brendan Bayliss: Guitar, vocals Jake Cinninger: Guitar, vocals Joel Cummins: Keyboard, piano, vocals Ryan Stasik: Bass Kris Myers: Drums, vocals Andy Farag: Percussion. After 16 years of performing over 100 concerts annually, releasing seven studio albums and selling more than 3.3 million tracks online, Umphrey’s McGee might be forgiven if they chose to rest on their laurels and attend to their lives as husbands and fathers. But you’d be wrong.

With their eighth studio album, Similar Skin, and first for their own indie label, Nothing Too Fancy (N2F) Music (distributed by RED), the group – which formed on the Notre Dame campus outside of South Bend, Indiana in 1997 – has something to prove. And that’s not just to their ever-loyal fan base, but to those who have never heard a note, or worse – dismiss them as “too sophisticated, too complex” or think they know what Umphrey’s McGee is all about. “We’re definitely not associated with a three-minute verse-chorus-verse song structure,” admits singer-songwriter-guitarist Brendan Bayliss about the new album’s “trim the fat” direction, which saw them aim to strut their rock and progressive roots.

Similar Skin has all the dynamics fans have come to expect from Umphrey’s McGee, including their famed improvisations, which can be heard on the closing, nine-minute “Bridgeless,” a live staple for nearly a decade finally committed to record. The only things missing, by the nature of audio, are the patented hand signals the group is famed for employing on-stage to communicate with one another. But these 11 songs could only have been performed by a band attuned to one another’s every move through 16 years of non-stop touring.

Entertainment Weekly called Umphrey’s “musical alchemists, deftly reconfiguring sounds from rock’s vast panoply of styles,” while praised them for “expanding the notion of what a rock band can offer to their fans.”

More than an “improg” group, as some have dubbed them, Umphrey’s McGee have devoted their craft to making their devoted followers feel as if they are part of something larger, through fan-curated sets, which include the “Stew Art Series”. Named after the Jimmy Stewart Ballroom, where they first recorded some of their improvisations, they offer fans a chance to text them during an exclusive private performance with not only song selections, but spontaneous ideas of how to perform them.

Every spring since 2010, the band has performed a special UMBowl show, announced on the day of the Super Bowl, which this year will take place outside Chicago for the first time this May at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, in May. The idea is to divide the concert into four quarters, stringing together “All-Request,” “Stew Art,” “Choose Your Own Adventure” and “Raw Sewage” sets in rotating order each year.

Having thrived this long, Umphrey’s McGee are now motivated by something else—keeping it going for another few decades at least. “Every year we’re a little more successful than the year before,” notes Jake. “Our career is in the form of a nice bell curve, a gradual rise. We’re really comfortable at this pace.”

In a shrinking music business, Umphrey’s McGee have found a way to connect to their fans on a grassroots, one-to-one level that keeps them returning for more, a sentiment that comes off loud and clear on Similar Skin, a paean to the complementary relationship between band and audience that has marked their 16-year career.

“The Linear” Similar Skin is not just an album for Umphrey’s McGee and their legion of fans, but an effort that deserves the attention of anyone with an interest in forward-thinking musicians who don’t fit into an easy-to-categorize box. If you think you know what Umphrey’s McGee is all about, guess again.

Set List (Purchase via UMLive01.18.2015, The Paramount, Huntington, NY

Set 1: Bathing Digits > Go to HellPhil’s FarmMad LoveBelieve the Lie[1]The Linear[1] > Glory[1] > Anchor Drops[1]Wife Soup[1]

Set 2: Preamble > Mantis[2] > Booth Love[3] > 1348[1]Higgins[1]Mail Package[1] Encore: Led Boots > 1348[1] with Joshua Redman on saxophone[2] unfinished[3] with Another Brick In the Wall (Pink Floyd) jam; unfinished

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