Tonight is my first real Umphrey’s McGee show. I saw them in 2012 at Bonnaroo for a 2-4 AM set, where I ended up laying down outside the large tent and falling asleep from pure exhaustion (I was sober), but I’ve never seen their full production, headlining show. Until I found out I was covering the show for Sound & Silence I couldn’t even name a single song off the top of my head. I have since done quite a bit of research on the band's history and catalog.
This isn’t because I dislike the band- far from it. I’ve taken the time to listen to plenty of their material over the past years, but never got the chance or, to be honest, the motivation to see them live. And I’m well aware- bands are in their purest and best form, when you are surrounded by other music lovers, and they’re feeding off of the energy from the crowd, playing with the intention of melting your face off.
So, while I don’t consider myself an Umphreak, I am more than excited for their stop in Grand Rapids tonight at the brand new 20 Monroe Live with special guests Spafford. I know a ton of close friends and musicians I look up to who consider UM their favorite band, and that alone is enough to excite me for the show. Also, in terms of a band that has been grinding for 20 years, starting as a local band in a college town, I’m inspired and motivated as a musician by their work ethic, dedicated fan base, and musicianship.
I think the fact that I’m not a huge fan (yet?) will give me an interesting perspective as a reviewer and concertgoer. I vow to go to this concert with an open mind, open heart, and open ears.
Kris Myers (drums)– Myers joined the band in 2003 after original drummer Mike Mirro left the band for medical school. He has a master’s degree in jazz drumming and was in a jazz-fusion group called Kick the Cat from Chicago before joining UM. I am also a drummer and look forward to watching and learning from the DRUM Magazine’s 2011 best Jam Band drummer.
Spafford- The four-piece “electro-funk therapy” group from Prescott, AZ has taken the jam scene by storm in the last year. If earning the opening slot for Umphrey’s McGee isn’t a big enough résumé builder, I’m not sure what is. I’m excited to see what all the hype is about.
20 Monroe Live- This brand-new 2600 capacity venue opened up last night with Trombone Shorty and Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers. Grand Rapids has been longing for a mid-size venue like this and it seems to have answered the call. Without this size venue, it’s likely bands such as these wouldn't have the opportunity hit Grand Rapids on Midwest tours.
Production: The main attraction for UM is Jefferson Waful, who has been their Lighting Designer since 2008. He is one of the best in the field and I expect to catch myself lost, gazing into the lasers and lights more than once tonight. Their production manager Bob Ston has been with them since 2000- one of the many reasons I’m sure the show in full will (hopefully) blow me away.
A good crowd: Umphreaks are no joke. I expect a packed house, full of fans that live and breathe Umphrey’s McGee. I will reserve judgments on any fans that may or may not have pre-gamed a bit too hard for the show.
The funk: I am not a fan of electronic, super dance-y music. This is my one reservation going into tonight. I’ve listened to the live compilation album “Hall of Fame: Class of 2015” and had to skip a few jams due to lack of interest and almost annoyance. It’s just my personal taste! Give me the rock and roll, give me the jazz, and give me the funk!
Improvisation: This is one of the band's strengths and many of the members have jazz backgrounds that fuel the improv. I would love to see some type 2 even type 3 jams. I’m excited to see who drives the jams, and if they sound as original, unique and creative as I hope.
These are my hopes and expectations for the show tonight. I’m excited to take notes during the sets and come back with a full report on the concert. If you're unable to attend, tune into TourGigs for a lovely 4K live stream. Pants optional. Let’s have some fun.