Umphrey's McGee
March 20th - 22nd, 2005
Melkweg, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

By Ian Oakley (with comments added by Bill and Martin)
Photos by Joe Myers


The Jam In The Dam flyer

I don't think many people in Europe are really aware of the American musical 'underground' 'Jam Band' movement. Started by people like The Grateful Dead and The Alman Brothers in the 60's and caring on right through to Phish in the 90's. Rock Bands performing mostly improvisational music and bands that at their peak in America (and only America it seems) that sell millions of albums and sellout Stadiums.
The music has moved on a lot since the early days of the Grateful Dead and their heavy hippy 'Bluegrass'/ country influences. Today the bands influences are taken from everywhere INCLUDING 'PROG' and the current top ranking 'jam band' on many people lips is Umphrey's McGee (except are they really a 'Jam Band'.....)

Well after all these years listening to and loving 'Jam bands' from this side of the pond two friends and I finally got to actually see some last week in Amsterdam at the three day 'The Jam In The Dam' Featuring Umphreys McGee, The Disco Biscuits, Keller Williams and Particle. Each band playing a two hour set each night in two linked venues (and never the same track played twice!).

It was quite strange as the event was really made as an American jam band holiday with all the tickets being sold in America and 99% of the audience flying over. (Actually many Europeans were annoyed at this as tickets sold fast and out before they even knew about it luckily I knew early enough to get some direct from the USA)

So in a lot of ways we had the full American experience on our own door step.

What I really hadn't appreciated before was what a great time you have at these gigs It seems that the audience were there for a party each night and the band playing was the party entertainment. Which is rather different from our rather staid European approach where we tend to go to stand and really listen to the music only showing your appreciation once it had stopped. I rather liked the change!

I was mainly there to see Umphreys McGee a band who I have been listening to (via freely shared internet files of their live concerts) for a few years now and a also band that the DPRP gave a very welcome review to for their latest album Anchor Drops.

We saw all three Umphrey's McGee sets and I have to say that they are the most impressive band I've seen in a very long time. They can rock, they can groove, they can jam, they can play intricate, heavily-arranged proggy stuff. Jam-band fans seem to think they are too proggy and not 'jammy' enough, but that suited me exactly as that's where my main 'rock' tastes lay and a band that crossover between the two genres is just my personal nirvana

Personally from what I have heard of their past material and now finally seeing them live and talking to their fans I feel that they are deliberately pulling away from the loser and more meandering Jam band field and more into the terrain that Frank Zappa once occupied:- 'tight' (VERY) 'intricate' 'jazzy' 'rocky' (make that VERY ROCKY!!) taking twists and turns throughout all (Rock) musical genres without acknowledging any restrictive musical boundaries. But, perhaps unlike Zappa, they never seem to disappear up their own backsides keeping strong songs and instrumental melodies to the fore and their pieces relatively short (at least 'Prog' wise).

Of all the members lead guitarist Jake Cinninger is my favourite. The man looks like he was born to play guitar in the same way as Hendrix did - somehow making it a part of his body.
And boy can he play! imagine the speed of Vai meets the rock of Van Hallen but with the soul and melody of Stolt or Gilmour. Other than his soloing, I think what impressed me most was just the very subtle sounds and notes he would add here and there to underpin a keyboard solo or a particular lyric. He's a "stunt" guitarist sure - but one with with soul and taste. And that's not to slight guitarist Brendan Bayliss, who is certainly no slouch. Both guitarists do the bulk of the singing. And I would be remiss if I didn't tell you how amazing their three man rhythm section of bassist Ryan Stasik, drummer Kris Meyers, and percussionist Andy Farag is.

Don't get me wrong this isn't old school Prog: formatted and mostly uncharged since the 70's. Although I still love that sound of old this is far more cutting edge and I feel is more the genres real future - where the band is as much if not more likely to tip a hat to Dixie Dregs, Phish, The Orb, King Crimson and Frank Zappa than to Floyd, Yes or Genesis. In fact you never know quite what will get into the mix - On the three consecutive nights we saw them they covered the whole of the Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Van Halen's Hot for Teacher, Bob Marley's Trenchtown Rock and Talking Heads' Making Flippy Floppy... and somehow made each number their own. (Not forgetting an amazing dual guitar workout of Mozart 40!)

Their own songs such as Bridgeless, Hurt Bird Bath, and JaJunk would appeal to most proggers, so long as they also like to rock out. The Umphreys's are definitely a guitar band first and foremost, despite the terrific contributions of keyboardist Joel Cummins. Imagine a cross between the Flower Kings at their most intense, with occasional forays into Dixie Dregs, Dream Theater, and classic rock territory (note the cover versions) and you've a rough idea of the Umphrey's.

With their USA fan base growing rapidly (making new Prog fans almost by stealth) and now having signed with Inside Out Europe and saying that their next album will be "Heavy Prog" I honestly think that we just may be seeing THE future dominating Progressive Rock band for the 21st Centaury.

I can only say to everyone here catch them while you can see them at a relatively small and frequent (at least States side) venue. I have a feeling that next spring will see the start of their real European assault. Their first show at Amsterdam was professionally recorded and filmed. From the set list that night I feel its a perfect introduction to anyone approaching the Umphrey's from the 'Prog' angle (I have a feeling that the set list was actually deliberately planned to be recorded for future European 'Insideout' promotion around the Prog Rock circuit You have been warned!

As for the other acts on the bill; Keller Williams is a guy with a guitar and a bunch of effects - a sort of jammy John Martin. OK, but limited (I got the strong feeling from the audience that his main fans are the 'fairer sex'). Didn't watch much of him. Particle and the Disco Biscuits both lack a decent lead guitarist and the ability to write good tunes. We caught the last half hour of Particle's (think Tangerine Dreams meets The Chemical Brothers) third set, when Jake Cinninger from Umphrey's joined them on guitar, and they were immeasurably better while he was with them. The Disco Biscuits are fun if all you want to do is relax and groove but to be honest after about an hour of each of their sets we were just plain bored (even with the 'coffee')

Final verdict: a great time was had by all. If they do another event next year, we'll be there and if Umphrey's tour Europe I'm there EVERY NIGHT (Well until the wife chains me down ;-))

Setlists:

Sunday:

Bridgeless
In The Kitchen
Believe The Lie
Uncle Wally
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Walletsworth
JaJunk/Stew/JaJunk
Hurt Bird Bath

No More Tears
Monday:

Going to War
Bottom Half
Push the Pig/Snycho
3x/Anchor Drops
Trenchtown Rock
DBK/Much Obliged
Robot World
Resolution/Making Flippy floppy
Wife Soup
Tuesday:

Hangover
Paryn Peeps
Tinkles/Mulches
Atmosfarag
Hot for Teacher
Nemo/N2F/Manny song/N2F
Bright Lights/Kabump
Aint No Fun
Ringo

Walking on the Moon/Pay the Snucka Pt III

 

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2005 DPRP