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Umphrey’s McGee blends musical genres

Thursday, February 6, 2014
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Chicago's Umphrey's McGee brings progressive and jam attitudes to the Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park tonight. From left are Andy Farag, Jake Cinninger, Joel Cummins, Brendan Bayliss, Kris Myers and  Ryan Stasik.
Chicago's Umphrey's McGee brings progressive and jam attitudes to the Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park tonight. From left are Andy Farag, Jake Cinninger, Joel Cummins, Brendan Bayliss, Kris Myers and Ryan Stasik.

When people think about jam bands, they think about the Grateful Dead and Phish.

Fans who choose progressive rock can play King Crimson and Yes.

If classic metal is mood music, Iron Maiden and Metallica are on the favorite list.

Joel Cummins thinks all three genres are in the mix with highly regarded Umphrey’s McGee. The six-man “progressive improvisation” band will bring a long, jam-type show to the Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park tonight. The gig starts at 9 p.m.

Cummins, UM’s 39-year-old keyboardist, can explain the band’s eclectic mix of styles, which also includes jazz, funk, blues and electronic.

“It really started with us just trying to expand our musical vocabulary as a young group,” he said.

Umphrey’s McGee

WHERE: Upstate Concert Hall, 1208 Route 146, Clifton Park

WHEN: 9 p.m. tonight

HOW MUCH: $25

MORE INFO: www.upstateconcerthall.com

Fitting in

“We all came from these different places. I had studied classical piano growing up, but at the same time loved Metallica. So we had a lot of that with the musicians in the band. We thought, as opposed to limit the scope of what we were trying to do, why not try to see what we could fit in to make sense with the overall sound of the band.”

The group, which Cummins co-founded at the University of Notre Dame in 1997 with guitarist-vocalist Brendan Bayliss, bassist Ryan Stasik and drummer Mike Mirro (who left the band in 2002 and passed away on Jan. 30) has always leaned toward the heavier side of rock music.

“And I think that can surprise a lot of people when they come to the shows and they’re not expecting to hear forays into metal and some really heavier progressive stuff, but that’s just our sound,” Cummins said. “That’s who we are.”

Kris Myers is now on drums. Guitarist Jake Cinninger and percussionist Andy Farag complete the lineup.

UM fans can look forward to a new, yet untitled studio album this year. And the band’s fifth “UM Bowl” has just been scheduled for May 3 at the Capital Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. The interactive event — broken into quarters like a football game — will include real time requests sent to the band via text messages.

As a keyboard player for a band that gives frequent nods to the past, Cummins is traveling heavy. He’s got a Mellotron, Hammond B3 organ and a Moog “miniMoog” Voyager and can produce sounds from another era.

Mellotrons, Cummins said, are being heard more and more in contemporary rock music. “It’s just another one of those options that I’ve been able to add to the arsenal that is really giving us some interesting tones,” he said.

But UM puts equal emphasis — maybe even greater emphasis — on other instruments and players.

Filling in

“We have two really accomplished lead guitar players and a drummer who is just a fanatic back there,” Cummins said. “A lot of times, my role kind of falls more into the creating the harmonic base or the harmonic rock of what’s happening, figuring out where I can find my spaces to fill things in.”

Improvisations are always part of the plan.

“It’s an off-the-wall rock show with lots of surprises,” Cummins said of tonight’s Upstate concert. “We try to use our songs as jumping-off points for improvisations, it’s kind of an ‘anything goes’ sort of vibe.”

He added: “Playing at the Upstate Concert Hall is always kind of a throwback for us, because we don’t play many bars these days. Things typically get a little more wild in that sense. That will definitely be something we’re looking forward to.”

The show might be wilder for some audience members. As part of UM’s “Headphones and Snowcones” project on the current tour, 20 men and women will get the chance to rent and wear wireless headphones that will transmit a sound mix sent directly from the band.

Cummins said the band loves the idea of more fans — and more technology.

“We always want to keep bringing younger people to the shows, which is certainly happening,” he said. “We have a pretty solid 18- to 24-year-old fan base, and we also have people who have been fans of the band for 15 years who have families now. So one of the other things we’ve been trying to do more of is more live Webcasts for those people who have kids or who are working crazy hours. They can sit in their homes and watch a show from the luxury of their couches. It’s amazing, 21st century technology. There are a lot of things you can do these days.”

Cummins expects the usual UM length tonight — two 75-minute sets. Part of the fun in playing in a band that can play 250 original compositions and about 500 covers is playing lots of shows in a row and never repeating a song.

“That really keeps it fresh for us and the audience,” Cummins said.

 
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