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Umphrey’s McGee returns to South Bend

Observer Scene | Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This Saturday night, Umphrey’s McGee returns to South Bend to play at the Morris Performing Arts Center. Umphrey’s was formed on campus at Notre Dame in the late 1990s, and four members of the band are Notre Dame graduates. Their most recent album “Mantis,” released in January, has been heralded as “their most progressive, melodic and artistically cohesive album to date” by Amazon.com.

“Umphrey’s has achieved a significant level of popularity by constant touring, including several appearances at the Bonnarroo Festival in Tennessee, opening in large amphitheaters around the country for the Dave Matthews Band, and headlining their own shows from coast to coast and in Europe and Japan,” Peter Kernan of Pacific Coast Concerts said.

Umphrey’s is best classified as a jam band in the tradition of the Grateful Dead, Phish and Dave Matthews Band. Nevertheless, their sound is definitively their own. Most of their songs feature complex arrangements and rhythmical innovation, including the use of odd time signatures. One of their trademarks is their ability to stop and start on a dime, completely changing the direction of a song in an instant without missing a beat. The band also features dual frontmen in Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, adding variety to their live shows.

Probably the biggest name in music to come out of Notre Dame or South Bend in the last 20 years (with the possible exception of Ted Leo), the members of Umphrey’s still maintain strong ties to the University. Brendan Bayliss is the son of Notre Dame men’s tennis coach Bobby Bayliss, and members of Jake Cinninger’s family are employed at Notre Dame. The band tours in the South Bend and Chicago areas frequently.The last time Umphrey’s played in South Bend was on Sept. 5, 2008, in St. Patrick’s Park. Bayliss gave an interview to The Observer before the show in which he recollected meeting the original bassist for Umphrey’s in the basement of Keenan Hall. The band started out playing at Mickey’s Pub, which is now known as Finnegan’s, as well as the Oyster Bar and other local venues.

At the St. Patrick’s Park concert, Umphrey’s pulled out all the stops to make the show spectacular, and one can expect more of the same at the Morris this Saturday. The band’s live act focuses on lengthy improvisational forays in which the band members dazzle the audience with both their technical chops and their artistic passion. Complex lighting displays help induce an overall effect of psychedelia.

Despite Umphrey’s reputation as a jam band, though, they do not succumb to looking like Grateful Dead wannabes, as their musical influences range from Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa to Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.Tickets for the show are $25.50, all seats reserved, and are available at the Morris box office, by phone at (574) 235-9190 or at www.morriscenter.org.