Umphrey's McGee (December 2007)

Date of Performance: September 13, 2007
Venue: The Majestic Orpheum Lobby Restaurant and Theatre, Madison, WI, US

A Foreboding Foreword

As Princess Ardala would order, it's better to be unfashionably early than unforgivably late. So, if you're looking for a timely band, you'll be aghast at Umphrey's McGee's faineancy. [Yes, that's a word. It means an overall lack of punctuality.]

Also, if you've come for the musicianship, use the scheduled break to abscond through any of the venue's designated exits. Come to think of it, a window would suffice, but a fire escape might be necessary.

To be fair, the complaints are few and far between - even if their flaws are significant. While they are as tight as The Flower Kings in bloom, to be candid; their behavior can be as shocking as Howard Stern on a bad hair day.

Read on for their "entertaining" qualities; but before we go there, I'm not done lodging my complaints. [As you can see this review warrants numerous semi-colons and asides due to my exasperating disclaimers. {And a good dictionary to boot ;-) -ed.}]

The event was set to start at 7:30 PM. My census of the repeat offenders established that it was as a two-parter separated by a brief intermission. The halves were planned to be about 90 minutes long. One or more encores were to be included in the approximation.

In reality, this should have concluded around 10:30 PM. Sorry folks, they weren't even close. As you'll find out, I left when this conflagrant circuit was still smoldering.

This idleness drastically affected my take on this band. Then again, the audience didn't seem to mind it, as they came in droves and were most interested in the lecherous antics during and after the halftime show.

Fans attended en masse. In Madison, it is rare to see anybody line up for more than a block. A film-festival or a football game occasionally makes the grade. That aside, this said a lot about the band's popularity with the area's indigenous clan.

Rather than wait like a nomadic lemming, I took the opportunity to grab something to eat. [By the way, the Rising Sons Deli is the ideal pre-show chow in this locality.]

As a result of our dining, we arrived relatively late. Still, the lights were on and there was no sign whatsoever of the band. The natives were getting restless and began to ferment with chants of "Umphrey!"

It was a young college crowd. Whether they were of age or not, there were drinks in hands, and it was infallibly proven on this night that these deadites were prone to demonstrate their enthusiasm.

On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of pricey equipment was spread out on the stage. In tandem with this observation, there was an unusual amount of security at this venue, and I could see why they went through the trouble secure it. Hint: it had less to do with the gear. While no other show at this venue needed as much, nor did any single outburst that I witnessed warrant it, one could infer that it was an insurance policy - their hardware to this groupware.

While I feared worse, the biggest offense from this throng of immature adolescents was mainly a load of terribly compromised dancing that reflected their inebriated state.

One particular guy nearby with a silver flask guy went "whoo" long before the lights ever dimmed. Even when the band was nowhere to be seen, there were cheers for roadies and techs. It's as if these people had never attended a show and didn't understand what it meant to get set, ready or go. Point blank, plenty of them were celibate concert goers until this experience.

While we're talking about the loyalists, some had class; like the dude with the blinking glasses. As he stumbled through the rows, people were given the advanced warning, which to some extent was due to his flair.

It was a school night, but it's obvious these students weren't studying. Their fraternities would tell them: "You can always retake a test, but you can never relive a party." I would have to agree with the peer pressure - this looked more like a social bender than a gig.

To clue you in, there was no smoking allowed at this venue; yet, there was a curious haze in the air. I smelled a burning sweet leaf and by this I don't mean an herb from celestial seasoning, a curry dish or a mint that's meant to give fruit salad a little kick. As history has shown, youth, barley pop, and psychotropic chemical don't always mix well.

Act I

Upon its launch, the backdrop changed from bluish-green to reddish-orange. It was 8:30pm at this point, and if I hadn't made this transparent to the reader, there was no opener. They just arrived belated sans a reason.

With the initial debauchery out of the way, I have a lot of positive comments to share.

Out of the gate, these guys were as spotless as an officer's boots. I was awed by their tight coordination and their witty demeanor in the midst of these quasi-impromptu jams. [As a side note, their style is known to fans as "Progressive Improvisation." Personally, I found it to be "Jazz Fusion" with slurred words.]

I felt as if I slid down a Time Warp, and by this I don't mean the world's largest-wettest-wildest "bowl" ride at Noah's Ark [a water park in Wisconsin -ed.]. Their act was trippy and had the seventies written all over it. The guitarist had a funky way of picking his notes, too. Somehow he found variety in a limited formula and in turn; duly maxed out the equation.

At first, two comparisons came to mind: They Might Be Giants or Barenaked Ladies. [*]

In hindsight, their melodic layers closely hearken to the Quebecian realm of Karcius as well.

Their voices didn't squeak but they were somewhat weak. The sound was also muddled, which matched the sullied atmosphere and the stained carpets in the hall. To add to the standard criticism, they lacked reprisals and themes. In their defense, these were unending jams, so it's safe to say the songs never left their place of origin. It's okay if you're into this melodic brand of chaos.

With a string of funky wa-was, I gradually warmed to this band. Not to mention, they sounded better with a few stouts under their belt. I felt they were pretty good once the tweaks were instituted.

Of the six on stage, we got two guitars, a bass, a keyboardist, a percussionist and a drummer. The way they spread the tasks and shingled the stage reminded me of - to reference once again - The Flower Kings. [By the vicissitudes of fate, I promise not to mention these venerable veteran vaudevillians more than thrice. Swivel down to the vagrant levels of this review to verify this asseveration.]

The guitarist, in particular, was a real stand-out. His style was a mix between Al Morse and Roine Stolt. As these two are musical technicians who I hold in high regard, it would be fighting words if someone said this monsieur was a slouch. While Daryl Steurmer and John Petrucci are proficient with speed, this triptych of virulent artists can take the dopier notes and make them refreshing.

The guitar hero and his crew played unusually well together as they were remarkably tight; like getting your fingers wedged in a sinkhole or your neck between the hinges in a turnstile. With so little white space, there was no room for error. To give you a spoiler, this maxim would eventually work against them.

They had a range that ran between invigorating and subdued. When they performed the latter, they were closer to The Grateful Dead. Unlike a voodoo sorcerer's most staunch supporters -- i.e., that would be the zombies of Dark Star Orchestra; Umphrey's McGee was 100% original.

Several songs in, they took their momentum whole-hog into the next gear with a fit that elicited Smash Mouth-oriented lyrics. They hadn't said it but I had thought, "Hey now; you're an All-Star. Get your game on. Go play. Hey now; you're a Rock-Star. Get the show on. Get paid."

Inextricably, I noticed a diminutive R2-D2 on the speakers at this juncture. Talk about a spacey prop.

As for the devoted coterie, they were excited about the introduction to each and every cut. Once the sacrificial lamb commenced, the jam sections elicited even more juvenile behavior. To call this psychedelic would be an understatement. I can see why this music is a vehicle for some of the inviolable activities involved.

A strange observation: teens were talking on their cell phones during some very loud parts. This wasn't cool and they weren't fooling anyone. I'm sure they were talking to their parents. The racket was clamorous, and there was no way any communication was going back and forth unhindered. Like that telephone game, only preschoolers in a quiet room had a better chance of relaying the tainted information from one node to the next.

When the band jumped headfirst into one of their more aggressive tunes, I almost cracked my head on the chasm. As I tried to regain my bearings and recrudesce to the surface, a powerful surge of noise pollution kept me inundated.

In my confusion, I expected to see cartoon rabbits or a cameo from Cheech and Chong. While I had not partaken in this ruddy drug culture, the environment surely made me paranoid. I was also afraid that Anthony Fremont would send me to the cornfield or Donnie Darko** would invite his cottontail friends. For the record, it was difficult to tell if these postulates were impromptu or prewritten. Since these pasta pieces had oodles of complexity in every helix, Umphrey's McGee deserves a feather in their fedora; though some might call this knobby noodling macaroni.

My favorite had an edge plus a Niacin-enriched tempo and a country twang. It was two-thirds instrumental; one-third words.

Another song reminded me of Bob Marley and the Whalers. Likewise, there were lots of Rastafarian types -- dreadlocks and yarn-knit hats -- to go along with the reggae. Incontrovertibly, these hombres were oblivious when it came to the Jamaican religion.

As for the rest of the membership, the bassist was in his own world under his newsboy cap. A neighboring groupie confirmed that he "Always wears that beret."

As if they were the Borg on a bender, the fans and band were wired into the same source. When one of the attendees yelled "Yeah!" someone from the stage responded with, "Madison, Wisconsin; it's been too long." Phrases were shouted randomly in each direction.

Lost In Space & This Does Not Compute

Just when the merrymaking was in full swing, it was announced they would take a short break - the operative word being short. Apart from a "thank you," they were totally AWOL.

I was lead to believe they'd be out in a couple minutes - fifteen tops. It was more extensive than I had anticipated and whether or not this affected anybody else's buzz; it surely killed mine.

Umphrey's McGee was outlandishly tardy in their return to the stage. Come to think of it, the same happened with DSO. They're lucky they're of age or this would have been considered truant behavior. For one reason or another, they lost time or the paddy wagon couldn't find them.

The most exciting part of the intermission was the mullet-headed guy taping up the stage with duct tape. This earned a swirl of approval from the colonists. I doubt they ever heard of Red Green. If they had, I'm sure they'd realize this was second hat and a job was meant for the scrubs. While the players were ingenious on their instruments, the fan base didn't display the same smarts. Speaking of headdress, it was hard to believe - for more reasons than one - that everybody has their own hair. If you would have seen the sticky beehives, the contorted Mohawks, and for lack of a better word, the trimmed hedges; you'd know what I meant.

Act II

I was wondering how they could keep this shindig going for another jam-packed symposium. My curiosity would soon be answered.

A dreamy sequence consumed five more precious minutes. Suffice to say, it was not as beguiling as Ayreon. For a moment they gained an edge, but it was never up to snuff with the primer. Then there was a false alarm that they might unleash something balladic. What initially seemed sweet turned rotten to the core. This began the downslide into an unholy abyss.

Not embracing the empty space, it brought the final countdown to a whopping 35 minutes. You could say my wick was lit, and my glutes were ready to scoot.

Somebody turned up the volume on the smoke machines. I had to wonder if this was part of some intricate cover-up.

I had an epiphany as it got later: my accomplice and I weren't the target audience. For starters, we sat while most stood even though the theater provided enough seating for everyone to rest their derrière. To be blunt, that's not the only inconsistency.

Up until this point, they had well-constructed compositions. I have never seen such synchronicity for a jam band. Going forward, I cannot say the same.

It was articulated that they'd play another old song. "Hope you know the words to it," they prayed.

Frankly, nobody from their devoted congregation was able to identify the stiff. This became the opposite of that comparison game customarily shown on Sesame Street. This band was supposed to be the same. Yet, they were different and in some sort of altered state. The metamorphosis happened on both sides of the picket fence. The percussionist was no longer hitting bongos but clapping. Plus, the silver flask made a subsequent appearance, and it was now being offered to me. A lot was being brought into question.

There was that quintessential guitar being switched. I have never been able to ascertain if the changing of the guard - in regards to this instrument - actually accomplishes anything. In this case, the chords were rabidly out of tune while the notes were savagely out of sync. Maybe the unsuspecting pawn would later be the patsy if inquiries came about and an investigation were put into action.

Once they hit the bluesy slope of the range, their rhythms turned to sludge. It was so sloppy; I wouldn't have expected a collared peccary to wallow in it.

These chaps were chummy like college buds or associates at work. They were your everyday extremely-talented dudes; only they should have taken their roles and responsibilities more seriously. It's a shame as they would be much bigger stars if they approached opportunities such as this more decorum.

It seemed like they lost their will to play and weren't bothering to impress anymore. Analogous that infamous night at RoSfest, even the lightshow went down the tubes. Often, it went from achromatic to pitch dark.

The audience's lack of etiquette wasn't any better. One guy could barely stand under his own power. To traverse the aisle, he had to claw his way through the riffraff. I had hoped he wouldn't hurl on my clothes. I could deal with most of the disorderly conduct. All this aside, I couldn't bear the singing from the spectators. Plus, it was a definite fire hazard with people in walkways. Looking around, I ascertained that my acolyte and I were now the only ones sitting in the entire place. The undead had arrived.

The dancing stopped as the people let the artificial enhancers take over. By this, I mean adrenaline and endorphins. They could fox-trot and bunny-hop; for this I won't give them a hassle or a demerit. It's just that they couldn't find their proprioception if their life depended on it. {And no, not a synonym for "own ass"... but rather, well, see below -ed.}

At this moment, I heard "This is the best concert, dude." At the same time, other tenets were unintelligible. Then there came an audit followed by this retort: "He's outside having a smoke." At this point, going outside to take a puff seemed extraneous. What's odd is that cigarettes are outlawed in this liberal city. Furthermore, this belligerent pack was less inclined to go outside to suck on carcinogenic sticks. As I attended the debate, I can attest that countless residents would be insulted by having this stuff blown in their face. Believe it or not, you can bet Madison cops are more likely to be called for bogies and grits over any other kind of contraband. As evidenced here, this lends itself nicely for a problem.

To establish that this wanton savoir-faire wasn't in my head, I pinched myself and stayed for a couple more tracks. Go figure! It never recovered. To declare this second half as freakish would have been a colossal understatement. I didn't appreciate the lost hour between the "short" break and the wayward jams. I would have liked to reclaim this wasted use of my time.

Umphrey's McGee would have been better off quitting while they were ahead. As for their followers, they are wannabe hippies who are a couple decades late for the soiree. For the Real McCoy, the closest you can come these days is Boulder, Colorado. After that, Umphrey's McGee is akin to performing cardiopulmonary pesuscitation on outdated remnants from a time capsule. Sadly, these behaviors are so socially out of favor that the police - and by this I mean the profession and not the band - would later be seen in force upon leaving.

With an unidentified beginning, it eventually became close encounters of another kind. I heard enough and flipped through the statistics. The chance it would dramatically improve was razor thin as it was now going downhill in flames. To add insult to injury, it descended faster than a freefall.

Because I waited for the 30 minute break, I planned on getting a return on investment. With no happy end in sight, I decided to go. When I left, I was somewhat pleased with myself for staying just a little longer. I could ease my mind knowing that I hadn't missed anything worth watching. Had I left any earlier, I might have had regrets. Being so abominable; they probably did me a favor.


Acts I & II were essentially two different concerts in one. I questioned the purpose of the second half and wondered if it's only purpose was to enhance a high. You could say something went on backstage, and we weren't on the guest list. They went from sharp as heck to incoherent as hell. Since the first half was close to immaculate, I'll stop right there.

As a reporter, I've gone beyond the call of duty on this one. It was clear that I was not the intended recipient of their shtick, and I would have never expected this besmirched behavior from the band nor their fans as their studio albums are clean and crisp.

Off the starting block, they were great and then some. To the fore, it was seriously a train wreck. As for the rest, it was a reasonably good use of my time. Regardless, it was a breath of fresh air to make it through the exit, as I was getting worried about my duds, hair, lungs and brain - as well as my hemoglobin, immune system, and the compromised density of my bones. If you aren't convinced, look up the widespread side effects of second-hand toxins and the resultant oxidative stress.

I won't further hypothesize what they were doing during their hiatus. One can only imagine.

At their worst, the Heart Association would recommend against subjecting yourself to their unhealthy vapors. However, when they're on, like GE, McGee "brings good things back to life."

6.5/10 (This is the average of 9/10 for the first half and 4/10 for the second - Really there was that much disparity, and I wish I could have scored them higher. If you get a chance, I suggest that you see 90 minutes of them and then hightail it out of there. It may also help to fall behind and see them on daylight savings time, or to be proactive and offset your watch by an hour.)

[P.S. Due to this and DSO, I am apprehensively looking forward to Wishbone Ash at Shank Hall on December 4, 2007 as well as at RoSfest 2008 towards the beginning of May. There is overlap in their blend; hopefully Wishbone Ash uses a filter and sifts out a more refined group of people. If not, one can only wish upon The Flower Kings' Stardust We Are to save them.]

[P.P.S. Behold! Like "V," I'm vindicated as I've kept my word to the vox populi with just this mere veneer of vanity. If you're topsy-turvy on this waiver, view above to validate that I've given a triumvirate of vittles to elevate my favorite cultivators of the sovereign vale.]

Hi. Editor Steph speaking. This is the below; just to make this long piece longer. Anyway, it means "The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself," according to; just to pick a link at random. *Whilst editing this piece, They Might Be Giant Barenaked Ladies came to mind. **The first reference is to an episode of The Twilight Zone, the second is a movie unto itself by that title. FWIW, their setlists: Set One: Much Obliged / Utopian Fir / Mulche's Odyssey, Alex's House / End of the Road, Example 1; Set Two: In A Silent Way / Blue Echo / Walletsworth / "Jimmy Stewart" (w/lyrics) / Blue Echo, I Want You (She's So Heavy), Partyin' Peeps / #5 / Partyin' Peeps, Smell the Mitten; Encore: All In Time / Mercy, Mercy, Mercy / All In Time. And herewith I conclude this editor interjection.

Added: December 2nd 2007
Reviewer: Joshua "Prawg Dawg" Turner
Artist website:
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Language: english

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