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All in One: Umphrey’s McGee, July 16 at the Capitol Theatre PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Monday, 13 July 2009 14:18

Umphrey's McGee

Describing Mantis, Umphrey's McGee bassist Ryan Stasik doesn't mince words about the band's ambitions: "This record was like our opus, ... withstanding of time and complex and progressive and still a little heavy with aspects of pop."

It is not a "summer fun" album, he said, and despite the Chicago-based outfit's reputation as a jam band, Mantis is daring, tight, and expertly played.

That's different, however, from saying it's concise or disciplined. "Complex and progressive and still a little heavy with aspects of pop" describes not only the album but pretty much every song.

When the group plays the Capitol Theatre on Thursday, it will be debuting the Mantis material in the Quad Cities - a departure from its typical road-testing of material. Fans of Umphrey's are used to knowing the songs by the time they've been committed to a studio album, but Mantis is different. The group worked on the recording for two years and didn't play the songs in front of an audience until it was released in January.

"We were a little antsy [to play the songs live], but it also forced us to write new material while we were sitting on that," Stasik said in a recent phone interview. "And I think it was worth the wait."

"Cemetery Walk" has a piano base, a soft lead guitar, and building harmonies in its first half, and escalating-in-intensity percussion, piano, and whispered vocals over a moaning slide guitar in its extended outro. It makes the journey from the AM-friendly Kansas to the overblown pomp of Guns N' Roses, and I intend that as a compliment; those are not easy things to pull off separately, let alone together.

That track is followed by "Cemetery Walk II," a techno treatment that will likely prove to you that either Umphrey's McGee can do anything or that the band shouldn't try so hard to do everything. "Turn & Run" will cement that sentiment, as brightly grooving guitar, keyboard, and vocal textures dip into the darkness of hard rock and then segue into a front-and-center guitar solo to make any shredder blush. Umphrey's McGee appears nearly fearless musically, for better and for worse.

Stasik noted the "purity" of these songs, but obviously he doesn't mean a uniformity of internal tone. That's because the band's songs are built from what they call "Legos" - a discrete riff or idea - and you can hear that process in the songs.

While the sextet obviously has the technical chops for the challenging material, its attempts at prog-rock majesty lack urgency, too laid-back to express swagger and conviction. Stasik cited the influences of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Frank Zappa - all of which are evident - but the harder elements of Mantis always seem at war with Umphrey's gentler tendencies, especially the voice of Brendan Bayliss.

That could make one prospective project really interesting.

Stasik said the band is mulling ideas for its next studio recording, and among those is a box set of six or so EPs, each with three or four different songs. "Each record might be a specific genre," he said. "We like to cover the whole spectrum of music."

And he means it, not hesitating to describe potential genres: island music, country, hip hop, and ... death metal.

"It seems like a pretty fun idea," he said, although he added that a death-metal disc would probably necessitate some studio effects on the vocals. "This would be stuff we probably would not perform live," he said.

Umphrey's McGee will perform at the Capitol Theatre (330 West Third Street in Davenport) on Thursday, July 16. The show begins at 8 p.m., and advance tickets are $20. For more information or tickets, visit TheCapDavenport.com.

For more information on the band, visit Umphreys.com.


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