Latest Blog Posts

by Greg M. Schwartz

30 Mar 2015

A Friday night in the City of Angels with Umphrey’s McGee in town at the historic Wiltern Theater is an occasion that will draw music fans from all over the Golden State. Some were coming from San Diego, since they either had no desire to see the band at the cramped House of Blues the night before or were dedicated enough to attend both shows, while others were down from the Bay Area to make a run of it with the next night’s show in Oakland.

This show would also feature the guest appearance of virtuoso saxman Joshua Redman, an occasional collaborator with the band who always adds some extra musical fireworks to the mix. The combo of Umphrey’s McGee with Joshua Redman has become one of the present day’s top showcases of sonic wizardry. This led to a festive vibe of anticipation early on, as some fans started lining up in the five o’clock hour to obtain the evening’s coveted limited edition show poster from renowned artist Chuck Sperry. This one was a gem, featuring one of Sperry’s trademark psychedelic cartoon hippie women on a silver foil paper stock print that soared exponentially in value by the end of the night. 

The Koreatown area around the Wiltern isn’t quite as happening as the resurgent East Hollywood scene around venues like the Fonda Theater or Hollywood Palladium, but the vibe is coming along with establishments like Beer Belly. The gastropub up the street on Western Avenue features what some fans would call a heady craft beer selection and has thus become a popular pre-game spot for the Wiltern.

Umphrey’s McGee like to collaborate, having shared bills in recent years with musical compadres like Widespread Panic, STS9, Galactic, and others, so it was fitting to see them welcome a rising band to open the show here in the Revivalists. The seven-piece New Orleans-based rhythm and blues outfit delivered a rewarding opening set for those who ventured in early. The band mixes New Orleans soul with vintage blues and rock vibes, conjuring an authentically old school sound to provide a contrast with what was to come.

Umphrey’s McGee may be steeped in an classic rock, but old school they are not. The band has been moving in a cutting edge direction in recent years that has seen them chart a bold course through the sonic byways and highways of the modern music scene. The band’s sound is not for everyone, with guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss known for wicked prog-rock guitar pyrotechnics and hard rock riffage that may not appeal so much to those looking for more danceable funk. But the virtuoso sextet has carved out a niche with the devoted “Umphreaks” who can’t get enough of the unique way the band blends guitar-heavy hard rock with advanced syncopation and high energy grooves.

The band warmed things up with the melodic rock of “Bridgeless”, seguing into the tight staccato riffage of “Gents” before landing back into “Bridgeless”. The over-the-top metal guitar on “Rocker Part 2” threatened the eardrums of some in the audience, but many reveled in the energy. The set went to another level however when the evening’s special guest was introduced. “Ladies and gentleman, the fifth Beatle, his name is Josh Redman”, Bayliss said to introduce the dynamic saxman. The band jumped into a groovier vibe with “Professor Wormbog”, a tune that features some more sonic space where keyboardist Joel Cummins could make an impact with his skillful piano plunking while Redman started to conjure his horn magic.

The energy level surged on “Bad Friday” with the band rocking on a tight arrangement that featured a platform for Redman to weave in and out with dazzling lines to elevate the group’s sound to another level. There’s something about adding a sax to a jamband that triggers a higher dimension of sonic magic and this jam was a dazzling case in point, with Redman and Cinninger trading lines as if flying in tandem on a Quidditch team. The effect was even more pronounced thanks to the Jedi level psychedelic light show from lighting man Jefferson Waful, easily one of the best in the business. There was a tangible energy in the crowd as the Wiltern audience synched into a collective groove as the band led the way on a trip through the light fantastic with Redman playing Pied Piper.

The second set followed a similar pattern, with Redman absent again at the beginning while the band rocked out in an edgier fashion. Cinninger and Bayliss sizzled with their twin guitar melodies on “Miss Tinkle’s Overture”, sort of like a heavy metal Allman Brothers Band. The rhythm section shined on “Hajimemashite”, with bassist Ryan Stasik, drummer Kris Meyers, and percussionist Andy Farag locking into a simple yet impactful heavy groove. The band executed another masterfully seamless segue into “In the Kitchen”, where they seemed to throw in everything but the kitchen sink with the fiery guitars blending with trippy keyboards for a psychedelic jam that ignited like a flambé dessert.

“Are we having fun yet?” Bayliss asked the elated audience at the end of the jam before welcoming Redman back to the stage. “Wife Soup” featured more sonic space for Redman to shine, setting the stage for the biggest jams of the evening. “California, you guys are into weird shit, right? Alright let’s get weird”, Bayliss said as the band launched into “1348”. The dynamic tune soared with the addition of Redman’s sax, which veered from following the guitar melodies to leading his own jazzy forays into time and space for a true sonic spectacle.

A sharp cover of the Police’s “Driven to Tears” closed the set in style, with the band nailing the Police’s sound but elevating the groove to another level. The evening was another dazzling showcase of the rare air that Umphrey’s McGee occupies in the modern music scene. The music may be overly challenging to process for some, but there are few touring rock bands who can execute such intricate arrangements with jazzy jams and a guest sax player on board to boot.

Splash image: concert shot of Umphrey’s McGee courtesy of their press page. Concert poster by Chuck Sperry.

by Sachyn Mital

27 Mar 2015

Björk, along with collaborator Arca, is currently nearing the end of a series of shows in New York City in support of her latest album, Vulnicura. After a couple of nights at Carnegie Hall and a couple at the new Brooklyn venue King’s Theater, Björk will wrap up the mini-residency at NY City Center (two performances remain). So far, every night has featured almost the entirety of Björk’s latest album Vulnicura, a breakup record, with the addition of the Alarm Will Sound string ensemble and Manu Delago on percussion. Although I had never seen Björk before, I know she’s a cutting edge artist on many levels—visually, fashionably, sonically. So it was no surprise to see some of her fans have a unique fashion sense of their own. Of course, their attire couldn’t be topped by Björk’s own—she had donned a unique spiky headdress from designer Maiko Takeda for the first half of her performance.

by Annie Galvin

26 Mar 2015

Though established acts like Tove Lo and Bleachers made appearances at South By Southwest in Austin this year, the music festival is more about discovering artists looking for more exposure and/or promoting new releases. Among the 40-plus bands I saw this year, these 15 new(ish) artists stood out for their energy and originality.

by Annie Galvin

23 Mar 2015

On Friday of South By Southwest Music, I seek out three artists at very different stages of their careers who are clearly engaging with the festival on different scales. Seeing these artists alongside one another brings to light part of what makes SXSW so unique: it’s a place where you can see an international superstar, a new act touring in support of a highly regarded first record, and an unsigned young singer hoping for a record deal, all in one night.

by Annie Galvin

20 Mar 2015

Having essentially marinated in a stew of rock guitars for the past two days—not that that was a bad thing!—on day three of the 2015 South By Southwest Music Festival I decide to traverse as many genres as I possibly can. From a Korean doo-wop girl group to Long Beach rap, with some detours into neo-soul and freaky British electropop, my findings are stimulating and surprising through and through. I also spend a lot of time in churches, which yields gorgeous acoustics and some new favorite singer-songwriters. For the sake of attempting some modicum of coherence, I’ll group artists according to the broad genre traits that they share, though that’s not at all meant to undersell the distinctive qualities of each performance.

//Mixed media

PopMatters is on a short summer publishing break. We resume Monday, July 6th.

// Announcements

"PopMatters is on a short summer publishing break. We resume Monday, July 6th.

READ the article