Since forming in 1997, Umphrey's McGee has released 11 albums, a combination of studio and live recordings, with the most recent being 2009's Mantis. I got my first taste of their dynamic live mix of jazz improv, prog rock, country, and bluegrass at Summer Camp Festival in 2008. I marveled at their fluidity and cohesiveness of the band members on stage. The balance of intensity and playfulness with which Brendan Bayliss (guitars/vocals), Jake Cinninger (guitar/vocals) and the others moved through their set was impressive at Summer Camp. And from the start of the First Quarter of UMBowl it was clear that they had elevated their live show like a veteran football team rises to the occassion when the fate of the UMBowl was on the line.
Start to finish, the venue rocked with the feverish energy of a football stadium at playoff time. Some fans danced and grooved while others, who wore UMBowl football jersey-styled t-shirts, blew referee whistiles to keep the band in check should they commit a sonic penalty, of which there were very few.
Kicking off the first set was a tongue-in-cheek video that added humor and a big game feel to the night. It featured all the band members talking about how playing live "is just like playing in a prime time football game." Shortly after, all the band members strolled on stage and then started jamming their way through "Quarter One," an acoustic set of songs entirely chosen in advance by fans who bought tickets and received ballots to cast their votes for songs. And fans truly had their way as the band unfolded re-energized versions of staple Umphrey McGee tracks "Front Porch" and "Divisions." Both songs and the entire set were nearly flawless and resonated through the supreme acoustics of Lincoln Hall.
Then during Quarter Two the band embarked on "a wholly improvised performance driven by bi-directional texting, that was sifted and delivered by “offensive coordinator/sound caresser" Kevin Browning who did a fine job using "Mozes" to curate a hilarious and challenging series of fan-texted requests that the band nimbly and deftly navigated through. This set was also broken down further in to mini-segements where the band provided minimal direction by telling fans what type of requests to make. For example, keyboardist Joel Cummins told fans that the first segment was "free-form mashup" and encouraged fans to text strange song combinations of their choice, so one fan texted Umphrey's McGee "Cemetry Walk" with Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice." And the band gladly played and nailed it.