Pool sharks: Umphrey’s McGee will perform Wednesday, March 3, at the Westcott Theater.
The six-piece Chicago band comes to the Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St., on Wednesday, March 3. The Syracuse appearance falls among the band’s current tour spanning the United States, the Netherlands and Australia. UM is known for a broad musical style and impressive light show. The music encompasses the improvisational techniques of jazz, while maintaining a rock edge and jam-band touches.
The band began in 1997 with Brendan Baalist (guitar, vocals), Andy Farad (percussion), Ryan Stasis (bass) and Cummins, classmates from the University of Notre Dame. All four studied music theory. Jake Cinninger (guitar, vocals) joined the band in 2000 and drummer Kris Myers came on board in 2003. Cinninger had been touring since age 13 and decided to return to his progressive rock roots. Myers was brought into the band after a past drummer left; he was, quite simply, the first and best of 500 applicants.
Jeff Waful designs the light show, often spending from mid-morning until show time programming the effects. Waful ran lights for jam-band giant moe. before working with UM, whom he met in 1999. “He is an artist with insatiable passion,” says Cummins. “He really learns the technology and it’s amazing what you can do with it.”
UM has toured extensively and frequently participates in festivals including Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, playing to crowds of thousands. However, the Westcott Nation club will provide a more intimate opportunity for the band to reach a smaller audience.
“It’s perfect. There will be 700 fans that really want to be there,” notes Cummins. “I love the energy of small clubs or big venues, but the energy is certainly higher in smaller theaters. With the sound and lights, it’s pretty fun and intense.”
Employees of the Westcott expressed similar sentiments, noting that UM should be one of their biggest shows as the band has been a popular request of patrons on Facebook and Twitter. “We’ve listened and this is who people want to see,” says Westcott talent buyer Eric Binion. “People aren’t having to spend two hours in a car going to Buffalo and bands love it, too. It’s cool to come to smaller markets and venues.”
The outfit will be playing a mix of material from their rotation of more than 120 original songs and may even throw in a cover like “Africa” by Toto or Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” However, their most recent album Mantis (Sci fidelity), released in January 2009, “feels better than ever” to perform live, according to Cummins. That’s because fans have become more familiar with the material.
Mantis was the first of UM’s eight studio albums to be recorded without being performed on the road first. It is UM’s most intricate and polished album to date, filled with deft, dancing guitar riffs and tight delivery among instruments and vocals. But Cummins couldn’t be exact about how much of Mantis would be played at the Westcott show. “We write the set list the afternoon of the show, but it’s pretty open-ended,” he says. “Someone will start going with something and we’ll just go, too.”
Although the material might be unpredictable, it has not deterred show-goers. Binion advised fans to get tickets now as they’re selling out fast. “I’m excited,” he says. “I think it will be one of the most visually stunning shows at the theater this year.”
Doors open at 7 p.m. for Umphrey’s McGee’s show at the Westcott Theater, with the music commencing at 8 p.m. Advance tickets cost $20 and are available at Sound Garden, 310 W. Jefferson St.; Funk ’N Waffles, 727 S. Crouse Ave.; and at www.thewestcotttheater.com; tickets at the door are $25.