Rage, Rest and Repeat
On September 8th 2012 UM performed a show in Black Mountain at the local Pisgah Brewing Company. Most commonly referred to as a progressive-improvisational rock jam band, UM’s unique compositions have been evolving for over a decade of sound since the band formed back in their early college days.
Pisgah is easily my favorite venue in the Asheville/Black Mountain Area. Beer stands, VIP sections and Port-o pots lined the edges of Pisgah’s outdoor venue, setting the scene for the debaucherous evening to come. The covered stage is wide and quite impressive in height; eliminate the quandary of where to stand. You can be situated anywhere at Pisgah and still see the whole show; the action and the good people are everywhere.
During the show my eyes became moths, dive-bombing the hypnotizing light. I could feel my own face melting; surrendering to the neon lights and patterned projections encircling the stage in a psychedelic halo. The colors summoned six musicians to the stage, filling the space like the flawless rainbow arching overhead.
Necks were cranked towards the sky, catching the remainder of the rainbow as dusk faded into night and night faded back to day, the stage lights rising over the crowd reminding us it was time to live by Umphrey’s 2012 tour mantra: “Rage, Rest, Repeat.”
Setting the stage for UM were Snarky Puppy, an instrumental fusion band based out of Denton Texas . Since the bands formation in 2004, Snarky Puppy has gone from the underground scene to an internationally acclaimed name in instrumental music. Referring to themselves as “somewhere between a garage band and a collective” the band has around 25 members in constant rotation. Members have played with musicians such as Snoop Dog, YoYoMa and Justin Timberlake, to name a few.
Snarky Puppy annihilated the audience with a display that looked more like a block party than a stage set. The percussion heavy, funk sounds of Snarky Puppy were far more than an opening band; they proved to be a raging party all of their own. The last song came to a satisfying breakdown of a suspended crescendo as hoots and whistles exploded out of a smoky sweat packed crowd.
For fifteen sweat drying minutes we shivered and awaited the main event of the evening. Everyone was in UM festival mode, as if shakedown street had paved its way right to the stage. A panorama filled the grass lot; deadheads, festie kids and travelers, hoola hoopers and that one old man you see at every jam band show standing in the same spot, unable to move for the entirety. Even when UM took their spots and the crowd couldn’t stand but to jump, he stood still, pupils like saucers absorbing the light.
The set exploded with “There’s no Crying in Mexico”, a heavy percussion, trance-beat that ran into the crescendo rich, electric-guitar track, “Get in the Van”. The crowd wiggled in a cosmic bliss, losing themselves in the mellow womp-womps that turned suddenly to an upbeat psychedelic dance jive in fourth song, “Nothing Too Fancy”.
Bodies angulated, limbs knocking, sweat dripping. Amidst the confusion I ran into, literally due to the massive turnout, the familiar face of Nathan Allen. Allen’s a sophomore at Wilson who has seen UM live eleven times. When I asked Allen to describe his opinion after the show his face brightened, the response immediate. “Bonkers, absurd, I lost my face”.
UM formed at Notre Dame in 1997 and has been gaining popularity ever since. The band consists of: Brendan Bayliss on Guitar & Vocals, Jake Cinninger on Guitar & Vocals, Joel Cummins on Keyboards & Vocals, Andy Farag on Percussion, Kris Myers on Drums & Vocals and Ryan Stasik on Bass. They are now one of the most internationally respected and highly demanded improvisational jam bands. Playing around one hundred shows a year together, the band members have saturated a shared musical consciousness but recognized quickly that “music is secondary to our relationships,” as Brendan Bayliss, the guitar and lead vocals, said in an interview on the UM website.
UM stands strong as accomplished musical alchemists, transforming covers of songs with their group wisdom and unfailing intuition. Individually, the musicians are extremely gifted and when the improvisational paths meet, a cohesive garden of sound blasts from the stage. The sound, the venue, the psychedelic lights and people it was all so unique- like the energy UM put into each song.
Silhouettes of swinging dreadlocks and bobbing heads got down to “Lets Dance” by David Bowie, a surprise that UM pulled out midway through their second set. Insane joy set in when the universal language of Bowie was twisted into a whole new definition of dance party. UM is notorious for putting their spin on classic covers. Ambient sounds moaned from Joel Cummings stylings on the keyboard, and the distant sound of an instrument that could have been the offspring of a cowbell and a triangle emerged from the percussion section. Electric guitar riffs and driving percussion rocked the audience, delivering constant danceable beats.
“Prowler” closed out the show’s encore as well as “1384”, a killer repeat from the start of the second set. “Prowler” crawled beneath my skin, haunting me out of Pisgah’s venue, towards the back of Pisgah’s indoor bar to catch an after show by the band Tiny Boxes. “Prowler’s” melody clung onto me through the after show, returning to me as my friends funneled out of the venue hightailing it to yet another show in downtown Asheville. But those are whole stories in and of themselves. What made my night was UM lighting it up, building it to the highest, and not daring to tear it down.
If you missed it check out Umphrey’s McGee Live Recording Archive online to download the live show!