Indiana-now-Chicago, Illinois jam band Umphrey’s McGee certainly knows its biggest strength: live performances. From its earliest days at South Bend at the campus of Notre Dame in the late '90s to breakthrough appearances at the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee in the early 2000s, this sextet have made a name for themselves as a must-see live band.
On Live At The Murat (SCI Fidelity), the band’s first “officially” licensed live album, Umphrey’s McGee brings it all home. Recorded over two nights at the Murat Egyptian Room in Indianapolis, Indiana from April 6-7, 2007 and produced by “honorary seventh member” Kevin Browning, it features 18 tracks from those shows and spreads them out over two separate discs that total over two hours in length.
These well-schooled musicians and former music majors played such live favorites as “Push The Pig,” “Nothing Too Fancy” and “In The Kitchen,” which on their 2004 CD Anchor Drops is four minutes long but on this album extended to a twenty-minute suite that is divided into acoustic/electric segments. The true highlight of this CD though is “Higgins,” a melting pot of musical genres that touches everything from reggae to Rush-like hard rock to blues and heavy metal. The speedy guitar glories of “Nothing Too Fancy” (from 2002’s excellent Local Band Does O.K. LP) is a close second.
The centerpiece—to this reviewer, anyway—of the seven-track long second disc is the eleven-minute long hard rock/fusion of “Push The Pig.” It’s head-boppin’ beats, Pink Floyd-ish synth rushes, double harmony vocals and melodic staccato guitar riffs and soulful solos make for a constantly compelling listen.
The Murat 2-CD live compilation is a sprawling display of UM’s top-level musicianship and tight arrangements (a la Steely Dan), but even at two hours and 12 minutes, the set could have used a few more of their popular tracks. And, the band could have cut down the jamming time on “In The Kitchen” by a few minutes, or at least made the musical interplay halfway through it a bit more interesting to follow.
Speaking of popular tunes that are missing on this album, you’ve got to wonder why UM never performed the terrific start-stop riff-heavy number “Nemo” (from 2006’s Safety In Numbers CD) at the Murat on either night (April 6-7, 2007). And why didn’t “Believe The Lie” (also from SIN CD) make the cut when it was part of the April 6, 2007 set?
These relatively small issues aside, both CDs are a terrific, exhilarating listen that will impress any longtime fan of the jam band and progressive rock (in the vein of UM's predecessors and influences like Phish, The Grateful Dead, and Frank Zappa). But it does not quite accomplish UM’s goal of representing everything they can be as a band. They have loads of good-to-great songs, but not all of them are here. To be considered a Hall-of-Fame-bound classic live release, Murat needed to do better than hit a triple. With its long experience as a live band, it should’ve hit a home run.
Maybe Umphrey’s McGee will next time. But for now, they’re at least playing the game exceptionally well and giving you your money’s worth, which is more than you can say about many performers these days.
For more info on Umphrey’s McGee, including details on new, digital-only live albums, visit the band's website. The track list for Murat is below.
1. "In the Kitchen (Acoustic Structure)"
2. "Acoustic Improvisation"
3. "Electric Improvisation"
4. "In the Kitchen (Electric Structure)"
6. "The Fuzz"
7. "Nothing Too Fancy" (End)
10. "Ringo, Pt. 2"
1. "40's Theme"
2. "The Triple Wide"
3. "Angular Momentum"
4. "Push the Pig"
5. "Out of Order"
6. "White Man's Moccasins"
7. "Padgett's Profile"