Umphrey’s McGee Runs the Mitten

By JESSICA PEREZ, Managing Editor

Midwestern jam band Umphrey’s McGee treated Michigan to a three-day stop on its 2017 tour in Grand Rapids and Detroit on Feb. 2, 3 and 4.

Day one of the “Mitten Run” was held on Thursday at Grand Rapids’ newest venue, 20 Live Monroe, which just celebrated its grand opening the night before. Thursday night also marked the “Return of the Jedi,” a.k.a. the return of lead guitarist and Michigan native, Jake Cinninger, who missed four consecutive shows due to a nasty flu. The band reassured its fans via Facebook that the show(s) must go on. “Joshua Redman will be sharing the stage with us all week long, so you’re in for a ride regardless.” The band then announced Cinninger’s return just a few hours before the Grand Rapids gig on Thursday, with photo of the musician holding up his guitar on stage, a glowing red halo of light surrounding it like a light saber.

Nights two and three were back-to-back performances at the Fillmore Detroit. Spafford, a fellow jam band with an eclectic sound, opened each Umphrey’s McGee show with what it refers to as “electro funk therapy” music.

The band specializes in improvisation, which is evident when looking at the set list for each stop on the 2017 tour thus far. “I’ve seen Umphrey’s over 20 times, and every single show is something totally different. You never know what they’re gonna hit you with,” said Nick H. of Cleveland during the show’s intermission. The only consistencies seem to be the seamless blending of songs during each three-hour performance, and the audience’s buzzing energy that engulfs each venue.

Umphrey’s McGee cannot be defined by one specific genre. The sound is experimental, jumping from progressive rock to electronic, to funk, reggae, jazz and swing. Some songs have catchy lyrics to sing along to, while the majority of the group’s live music is instrumental. It starts with a simple melody that each musician will build upon, adding several intricate layers into the mix and gradually picking up speed. Cinninger (guitar/vocals), Brendan Bayliss (guitar/vocals), Ryan Stasik (bass guitar), Joel Cummins (keys/vocals), Kris Myers (drums/vocals), and Andy Farag (percussion) work together to create an intensity that reaches a head-banging, guitar-shredding peak, then softens back down to the single, slower, original melody.

The band offers a truly unique listening experience with “Headphones & Snowcones.” Concertgoers can rent a pair of headphones for the night (at the merch table for about $40) and take advantage of the highest quality sound possible. The headphones stream the audio being recorded straight from the sound engineer’s soundboard, with no intervention of screaming fans or muffled speakers that might drown out certain sounds which can only be heard in a studio recording.

The Couch Tour offers another unique way for fans to experience the show. Whether they missed out and want to watch it at home, or it was just so good that they can’t wait to relive it, the Couch Tour is a live streaming of the concert that offers the same quality sound as Headphones & Snowcones.

Each of the three Michigan recordings is available to purchase on Tourgigs.com until Feb. 14, either individually or as a “Mitten Run,” bundle package. Or, if you’ve chosen to rent a pair of headphones for the night your download is included, according to the UM official website, along with “one hell of a good time.”