Tag: review

“You Walked Up Shaking in Your Boots but You Stood Tall and Left a Raging Bull” Album Review

The newest release from Umphrey’s McGee, “You Walked Up Shaking in Your Boots but You Stood Tall and Left a Raging Bull“, is unique for more than the ample characters that make up its title. For starters, it’s an album built of songs that were previously reserved for the ‘intro’ portion of the set. The prologue for the opener. An hors d’oeuvres.

Just as one cannot read a book of prefaces, it sounds daunting to listen to an album of introductions. Would the band be able to expand these proems of accretion into full fledged songs? For the most part, the answer is yes. Umphrey’s has more than meager meals on the menu. The album struggles when the listener is left with jamband blue balls, witnessing drastic disconnects right when the musical subplot is starting to develop. The album is successful when the Introductions reflect back on their original themes while growing into comprehensive tunes with emotive sections, slick segues and pyrotechnic solos.  The Umphrey’s-faithful who journey out into this unique audio excursion will find that many of tracks on the album have all of that.

This includes the album’s leading track. Catshot perfectly reflects its roots while taking the tune beyond accession status. The intro on this album of intros, Catshot was tailor made to amplify Umphrey’s inherent energy.  A  simple, haunting piano slowly walks the song forward, unhurriedly joined by the rest of the band as they build towards a layered and complex crescendo.  Despite the fact that it ends abruptly, Catshot is successful in setting the tone and laying the foundation for the rest of the album.

No Crying in Mexico  is the first song which suffers under the restraints of limited track time. While it is longer than Catshot, it takes awhile before the tune really dials in. When it does, it is glorious, combining Floydesque guitar tones with a unexpected dance party, taking what was once a random rock-and-roller into a new realm. The song cuts out too quickly after its apex, leaving listeners thirsty for further development.

Leave Me Las Vegas is a plodding, distorted lurcher tune that does not vary much from its live iterations, a throw away on the album.  Stasik’s amazing legato runs, hidden in the mix, are the track’s only true treat. Leave Me Las Vegas needs more time to evolve, and needs to move beyond the trudging main riff to feel like more than just a foundation.

Depth Charge and You’ve Got the Wrong Guy also do not stray far from the renditions we have seen live, but it feels like there is more to build with here. The segue between the two is absolutely incredible and is the highlight of both tunes. Joined together, they form a far more satisfying song experience than they ever could standing alone. Hopefully, from now, on Depth Charge & Wrong Guy will be forever intertwined.

The second longest song on the album, Tango Mike has more emotional depth than all of the previous tunes combined. A reflective and poignant guitar leads in over the first minute until it is joined by the rest of the band. A separate fuzzy guitar joins the blend and brings a classic rock tone that really emphasizes the pensive mood of the song. Towards the conclusion, the song glides out of its rocky chorus into the main riff, and fades gently in satisfying fashion, a rarity on an album where some song-endings seem like afterthoughts.

Nipple Trix is a stunt show, a six string shredfest saturated in speedy solos crafted by neck wandering digits. The axe is accompanied by  a quick fingered synth solo whose sound amplifies the already high levels of excitement. Sadly, after all of this build, the song simply fizzles out. The finale is completely unsatisfying, considering the two minutes of fireworks that precede it.

Le Blitz suffers from a similar fate as Leave Me Las Vegas. It’s more energetic than LMLV, but lacks the amazing  Stasik fancy finger runs. A shuffling rock riff without a bridge, notable solos or unique soundscapes, Le Blitz is largely forgettable, save for the segue into its more interesting neighbor, Le Sac.

The only completely new material on this disc, Le Sac is a prepossessing and lightweight song which easily outshines its neighboring tracks. Twinned guitars envelop around elegant piano and evoke happy tears. This is the most beautiful track on the album. Le Sac isn’t so much an Intro as it is an Outro, and would make an unbelievable epilogue to an especially epic set.

There is a lot of energy in Gurgle, but much like Nipple Trix, it fires up and fizzles like a sparkler. All of the the segments are wonderful – the weird phaser-like throaty lead-in, the driven guitar riff – but epic sections or incendiary solos never materialize. Gurgle has a ton of promise, and not enough time.

The final two tracks on the album are two of the best. A song that can certainly be described as cinematic, Restrung is walk-in-slowmo music. The track is a reworking of the intro Unsung Hero. Joel is a highlight throughout the song. An unending simple and pretty piano is juxtaposed alongside prominent, midi-esque keys that lead the Restrung with an air of extravagance generally saved for royalty. Thoughtful and well placed six strings adorn the riff, and build a song that is both melodic and energetic at once. The conclusion cleanly passes into the next track perfectly, nearly fusing the two.

If there is an opus on this disc, it is October Rain. The album’s finale feels like the most well developed track of the dozen and is extremely enjoyable.  A microcosm of the album itself, the song is crafted by well developed build/crescendo segments. October Rain dances in on mysterious guitars, and light hand drums before being joined by a wandering piano riff and amplified by the developing thunder of Kris’ drums. Twice, there is a minor build – wonderfully punctuated by Stasik’s bass riff – before exploding into free flying guitars. The band tapers the energy momentarily before relaunching with a vibrancy unlike anywhere else on the album. Here, the focus on Kris’ energy is delightful, the snare and cymbal work reminiscent of Math Rock, delivering fervent support at the exact right moments for energize and emotional emphasis. Now that this song has burgeoned into its own full-fledged epic, it deserves a spot mid-setlist.

Most of the drawbacks to this disc are found in the limitations of the short form chosen, with many tracks that feel like they’re just about to get cooking before they abruptly halt. The band could have gotten a lot more out of No Crying in Mexico, Gurgle, and Nipple Trix if they had more room to breathe. They’re too good to remain preludes.

Now that many of these Introductions have stretched into true songs, it would be cool to hear them worked into the center of the setlist. The desire to see these offerings flourish as something larger than a preface is likely in the heart of every Umphreak, and it would be neat if they could be opened up as an avenue of improvisational exploration.

It’s almost surprising how successful You Walked Up Shaking In Your Boots but You Stood Tall and Left a Raging Bull is at creating a cohesive package from songs that were never meant to be more than prefaces. The transitions between songs create a satisfying journey  that cannot be appreciated when listed to on shuffle. As always, Umphrey’s is willing to an auditory risk in the studio and walk away from the experiment largely successful.

For the most part, on You Walked Up Shaking in Your Boots but You Stood Tall and Left a Raging Bull, Umphrey’s is serving up more than just appetizers.

Top Tracks:
Catshot
Nipple Trix
Le Sac
Tango Mike
Restrung
October Rain

 

Umphrey’s Crushes 23rd Boulder Appearance

By Joshua Colky
Photography by Kristine Condon 

This past Thursday, Umphrey’s McGee hosted their 23rd Boulder show, drawing a huge crowd to the famed hippie mecca in the Colorado foothills. While the venue and seasonal hosts have varied, a precedent has been established that Red Rocks runs will include a Boulder date (save for 2010). The Boulder Theater, with so many previous classic performances and high caliber guest appearances, has become an obvious favorite for the fanbase. Tickets sold out instantly. Fans networked anxiously amongst their friends hoping for a spare extra. People offered their souls and first-born in online regional groups for the opportunity to ride the rail. The months of anticipation culminated into a large line along the façade of the venue, vibrancy palpable in the surrounding atmosphere as old and new friends embraced and engaged in animated obsession before the unopened doors. Once inside, Umphreaks sampled Nothing too Fancy Pale Ale awaiting the sextet’s entrance. The venue was surprisingly uncrowded in comparison to previous years making for an extremely enjoyable rageface environment with lots of room to dance no matter where you went. DSC_9785

Goonville, Umphrey’s weirdo freakchild of an intro tune stumbled onto the stage as the band emerged. Unique in its build, the tune goes from sounding delightfully discombobulated to a militaristic plodding unlike any of the other intro tunes. The sound quickly pivoted into rock-untz epic Wappy Sprayberry, which included a dance jam that was bass heavy and stripped down, where echoey drip-drop guitars and fat puddle bass drove a focused build back into the energetic song. Cemetery Walk 1 would follow, Bayliss’ voice sounding pristine as Jake tore into the first solo at the beginning of the tune but took the second one, near the end, a bit sloppier. Giving a shout out to manager extraordinaire Kevin Browning (who just had a son), the band dove into Piranhas, a lyric-heavy tune which debuted this past New Year. The song continues to improve but has yet to find its niche, piling through with little variation of sound or style throughout. The potential is obvious – the lyrics are amazing and the verse itself has a nice groove – but the song sticks to that groove until completion with not enough interesting divergence from the standard path.

1348 featured a dark dirty jam which played on the song’s standard elements before plunging into an organy heavy groove. Spiral staircase guitar licks eventually enveloped around the bass and keys, leading to the meat of the jam. Example 1 was loose in the best sort of way, bluesy guitar solos encapsulated by the gorgeous riddle lyrics. In The Black brought back the dark motif that ran through the set. A new song which Umphrey’s debuted at UMBowl, In The Black is a multiple-personality disorder jam, segments of the song sounding almost unrelated that somehow collapse into place. It is an intriguing and sounds reminiscent of Educated Guess got tipsy, where its intricate run along lyrics in the “if all you need is a little help…if not for me maybe someone else..” section.

A standard but beautiful Morning Song followed, leading towards set closer Cemetery Walk 2. The dance party tune leads to a mellow space groove in the middle where you can hear Andy Farag’s lightning fast percussion behind the deep submarine bass. Jake flicker fingers the final solos which crescendo in energy before the semi-dark set ends.

The second set seemed it would continue this heavy path by opening with Mantis. Left unfinished, the obvious sandwich seemed appropriately placed but the band did not dwell long enough to establish a jam, quickly transitioning into an upbeat and energetic Jajunk. One of the most focused, patient and thoughtful jams of the night, a fast bass joined aerial trapeze guitar flurries, Joel bringing a subtle happy sound to the keys that blended perfectly as the guitars ramp into overdrive. An engaging Women Wine and Song followed with pristine execution, earning praise for the extended rockytonk jam that trailed the final verse.

Educated Guess, the first Similar Skin song of the night, was flawless in the standard verse into chorus content. The song itself was impressively performed, the harmonies perfectly layered and the energy levels riding very high. The encapsulated jam shed some of that energy and became lost along the way. While the intentional looseness was taken maybe a step too far, the transition back into the last part of Educated Guess was fantastic. From here a masterful Blue Echo unfolds, the jam built of concentrated needlepoint guitar work that escalates to a distorted lumbering apex  where the drummers craft thunder before trailing into a Myer’s led Voodoo Lady. Umphrey’s really owns the track by DSC_9864extending and fleshing it out a bit and Kris’ voice is well suited for the song.

The final two songs in the set, Wife Soup and Hindsight  are bothl placed and wonderfully performed even without any improvisation or extended jamming. Hindsight’s fifth performance to date is great. Jake concentrates the inner rage the conjure the vocal demons required for this song and does so marvelously. An encore of the always fun finger fancy Fussy Dutchman, where guitars and pianos collide for a fireworks show in their own right, leads into the second half of Mantis, closing out the night.

There is no doubt that both the song selection and high quality jams made this an exemplary Boulder performance. The musical Mantis and heavy motif that ran through the jams in both sets was well broken up by the occasional dance heavy tune. Umphreaks left the Boulder Bubble with their appetites whetted for the day to come.

Celebrations and Front Porch Mania Rock Peoria

By Tara Gracer
Photos by Sabrina Palmer

UM6-28-23

You know it’s going to be a good show when Kris Myers runs out on stage waving a foot-long sandwich and trying to hand it out to the crowd while the band goes into the famous rare sing-a-long, Front Porch, as an opener.

But where to even begin? This show was fully packed to the brim with requests and tributes, wrapped up like a present with a bow, gracefully handed to the audience by the band to unravel joyfully. After the first verse of Front Porch, the band quickly moved to Resolution, which contained a Cinninger crescendo lead with heavy Stasik riffs and a tease of Back In Black by ACDC with no lyrics. The band went back intoUM Britches Birthday 2015 Front Porch, which featured birthday celebrant Steve Britz, a long time member of UM’s crew, on percussion with Farag, before Cummins took a lead on the synths. A rendition of Happy Birthday was sung for Steve alongside a birthday cake delivered on stage, which everyone jokingly stuffed their faces with. Cummins jumped into his southern hoedown, Root Beer Rag (last played 2003-11-29). The band went back into Front Porch to segue into a Led Zeppelin cover, Hey Hey What Can I Do, a request for pinja extraordinaire, Sam Sutton, for his 200th show just to go back into Front Porch again and finish it off. We still were not done with the first set. The music continued into a 2×2 with a fancy dance jam, a straight-through Little Gift, a soft and tender The Pequod, and then an intense metal Mulche’s Odyssey to end the first  set.

UM6-28-30The second set was clearly about getting down to some improvisations, such as the opener’s Dump City “pong style” trance jam. A spacey The Linear followed with a rough metal build up that perfectly, precisely transitioned into The Bottom Half, which had an uplifting melancholy jam. FF was dedicated to the father who celebrated his 100th show and brought his 7-year old daughter for her 1st show. She proudly held those rock hands up in the front row while sitting on her father’s shoulders throughout the song, which also contained teases of Fool In the Rain by Led Zeppelin since it was pouring outside. A solid Out of Order followed by what is generally an “opener”, Le Blitz, which transitioned into a crowd shouting Domino Theory. Roundabout was played as a tribute to a fallen musical member of Yes!, Chris Squire. Although the second set seemed shorter compared to the first, the band teased the crowd by playing Front Porch one last time and sealed the show with an unusual encore choice, Thin Air, which contained a verse from Rainbow Country by Bob Marley. To the devoted Umphreaks, the only tiny tidbit the show might have been missing was a lyrical stew to completely seal off the package as the best show of 2015. But plenty of others that attended the show will say the combination of the ridiculous Front Porch madness of the first set and the tribute driven, jam heavy second set is every Umphreak’s dream. This show was definitely one for the memory books because of the enthusiasm and clowning of the crowd and the band as well as the birthdays and milestones of the Umphrey’s McGee community.

Come Together and Read Another London Sessions Review

By Jason Turngren

When Umphrey’s McGee announced that they had a new album coming out only ten months after their most recent studio release, Similar Skin, naturally fans grew anxious and excited for it’s release. Learning that the album was recorded in one day at Abbey Road Studios was the icing on the proverbial cake.To top that off, the track listing is absolutely mind blowing, the perfect selection of tunes for the task.

The London Sessions kicks off with ‘Bad Friday,’ a track which made it’s debut on New Years Eve 2013 at the Fillmore in Denver, CO and has quickly became a crowd favorite. With stunning guitar work intertwining the mesmerizing vocal harmonies this track seemed perfect for Abbey Road Studios.

“Rocker Part 2” has been in Umphrey’s McGee’s live rotation since New Years Eve of 2007 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, but this is the first time their live classic has received any studio treatment. The heavy prog-rock feel at the front end of the song is sure to bring memories flooding back from live performances attended over the years. Listening to “Rocker Part 2” alone in the comfort of your own home, it’s tempting to throw your arms in the air after Jake’s sensational guitar solo leading into Chris’ drum break down mid track.

After  being released on their most recent studio album ‘Similar Skin,’ it was  interesting to see how they would alter ‘No Diablo’ for ‘The London Sessions.’ Listening to both versions of ‘No Diablo’ back to back it’s safe to say they “took it a little easy” in Abbey Road Studios. The new version has more of an acoustic vibe that softens the instrumentation and really magnifies the lyrics to help bring out the vocal harmonies that ‘Similar Skin’ didn’t capture as strongly.

‘Cut The Cable’ is another song that was featured on the previous Umphrey’s studio album which Umphrey’s took a little slower this time around. Having originally been a semi-bluegrassy tune, it was a bit jarring to hear the prog-rock version ‘Similar Skin’ had brought us. Abbey Road seems to of had been the perfect place to slow it down a bit and bring us back to the familiar acoustic version we were introduced to years ago with 30db.

To call “Glory” a crowd favorite would be a massive understatement. Having been played over 250 times since 2002, it’s only release has been off of the now out of print ‘Local Band Does OKlahoma’ live release from 2003. Joel’s piano intro is guaranteed to send shivers down your spine as excitement fills your eyes. Abbey Road set the space necessary for this song to breathe. It’s hard to think of any other studio doing ‘Glory’ justice the way Abbey Road has.

“Plunger” is a track you might have to throw a good pair of headphones on in order to find a difference between this release and it’s debut on Umphrey’s McGee’s third studio album ‘Anchor Drops.’ Besides having a brighter sound and clearer direction, the addition of “Plunger” is an amazing throwback to their earlier studio release

After making its live debut in 2012, “Comma Later” found a nice fit on ‘The London Sessions.’ With a Steely Dan like jazz feel to it, this track flows with the same intensity as it does in the live setting. Good headphones are highly recommended for enjoying this song to it’s fullest extent, with eyes closed it feels as though each instrument and vocal track is happening all around the room.

“Eat” was introduced into Umphrey’s live rotation in 2006 and was placed on their 2007 ‘Live At The Murat’ album. The heavy metal beginning gets you groovin’ and going, with Jake professing his love for eating something sweet, it is in fact such a treat. What has generally been known as purely an instrumental track these lyrics seem to be improvised. Whether they were or not, it was a welcome surprise to those not expecting to hear Jakes metal voice.

A trip to Abbey Road Studios wouldn’t be complete without peppering in a Beatles Cover. ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is one of the Fab Four’s heavier songs that fit in well with the vibe of the album. It is also a song Umphrey’s has managed to master performing live over the last nine years. Sounding exactly like the way the Beatles intended it, Umphrey’s McGee found a way to make it their own without sacrificing the integrity of the original recording.

With old and new tracks, new renditions of previously recorded tunes, along with a cover, ‘The London Sessions’ is an album that covers a wide variety of what Umphrey’s McGee is. Forever changing, altering and bringing something new to their fans. This might be Umphrey’s most diverse album yet in that respect. Coming off almost as a live set of music this album shows us many variations of old and new favorites along with a cover, what more could us Umphreak’s ask for? ‘The London Sessions’ truly is a masterpiece and to have an albums worth of songs in one recording session proves these guys are a powerhouse capable of just about anything.