Review: Umphrey’s at the Calvin Theatre

“This is just an absolute dream come true,” Meade said. “There is nothing better, in my mind, that they could have done for me. I am so absolutely grateful for this opportunity.”

Meade must have been pinching himself during a stellar The Bottom Half that segued into Spires the band dedicated to him.

A statement from the Umphrey’s McGee family on the blog read in part “… They offered him a 10 day all expenses paid trip to Amsterdam so he could see the city he’d always wanted. They offered him the best drum kit money could buy. He decided he’d rather spend the day with Umphrey’s. To say we were flattered is an understatement.”

The second special guest the band welcomed on April 8 was the brainchild of Umphrey’s McNES Scott Hannay. A gigging musician, music instructor and self-proclaimed “computer geek,” Hannay tore apart an old Nintendo NES for the sound chip, which he uploaded to his computer to arrange 11 Umphrey’s McGee songs, many he put on MySpace, featuring the always-popular sound of Mario’s fireball as well as the familiar Mega Man explosion.

As Hannay explains: “The project started as a labor of love and pretty much stayed that way,” Hannay said. “It was intended to portray a few select Umphrey’s McGee songs in the way that I sometimes heard them in my head… like it was coming through the NES sound chip. Something about the combination of the guitar tone, the beat and the dual lead harmonies set it off for me. I almost felt… obligated!”

Hannay knew the band had caught on to his material and had even tossed the band a CD with his songs at an informal meet and greet after a show in 2004, but he was more than surprised when he received a MySpace message from bassist Ryan Stasik in February that read, “we are thinking maybe a mash up of our tunes with you… you do some intros and we all kick in… then we do 3x and we will go everywhere … brains are working here, more to come for sure. But it is a yes on all accounts!!”

Hannay and his rig, consisting of a few keyboards and a laptop, sat in on The Triple Wide in set one and returned to the crowd’s delight to open the second set solo, one-upping the instrumental, Blue Echo, which segued into the apropos Robot World.

I caught up with Hannay when he took in the second half of the show from the balcony. He said that he knew that nerves might kick in before he went on stage, but didn’t totally freak out until the band detoured from the planned set list.

“They changed the set list so I didn’t know when to go on. The stagehand, Wade, just pointed at me and said ‘You go out there now,’ and I went on (laughs),’” Hannay said.

Hannay said it was Umphrey’s keyboardist Joel Cummins who most liked his technique, but Bayliss apparently dug Hannay’s songs as well, telling the crowd, “Just listening to his songs makes me want to go buy an old Nintendo and spend hours in my apartment.”

Speaking of the crowd: Whether it was because it was a Wednesday night show or because the Smith College students were still recovering from spring break, the crowd at The Calvin was rather paltry. To the point that lead singer Brendan Bayliss and keyboardist Joel Cummins couldn’t help but criticize with some amiable banter. Bayliss took shots at the one shriveled balloon floating around, describing it as “the size of someone’s balls.”

He did offer some recourse, saying, “I didn’t mean to offend the guy who brought the balloon by saying it was pathetic, which it was, but at least bring a bigger balloon, or I hope there was something in it,” to which Cummins added, “Yeah, we still like you, but there is room for improvement.”

Back to the music of the evening: It is fitting that the soundboard recording I grabbed after the show – my voice still coarse from screaming for an encore – was split into three discs. After all, the band could have easily called it a night after its rendition of Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights that closes disc two and it would have been a hot seller. Sets one and two also saw polished versions of rookie tunes, Cemetery Walk I and Spires, as well as fan favorites like the In the Kitchen opener and ’40s Theme.

However, not to be satisfied, the band charged on, surprising with the rare and bright Kimble, followed by The Floor and two smoking encores including The Fuzz and Glory that elevated the show to one people are already calling Umphrey’s best show of 2009.

I’m sure Hannay and Meade couldn’t have wished for anything more.

Set list:

Set One: In The Kitchen > Cemetery Walk > #5 > The Haunt > Another Brick In The Wall jam > In The Kitchen, The Triple Wide^, 40’s Theme

Set Two: Blue Echo^ > Robot World, Plunger > “Jimmy Stewart”* > Plunger, The Bottom Half > Spires > The Bottom Half, Equal Rights, Kimble > The Floor
Encore: The Fuzz > Glory

^ with Scott Hannay on keys with Joel
* with lyrics

Note: Scotty actually sat in on “Robot World” and began the second set solo with the intro to Blue Echo.

If you so choose…

The following is transcribed banter between Bayliss and Cummins that happened after The Haunt > Another Brick in the Wall:

Bayliss: Hey Joel, I don’t know if you saw this, but did you see that one little balloon that was bouncing around?
Cummins: I did, I did
Bayliss (to crowd): Whoever brought that balloon out; that’s pathetic.
Cummins: I mean one balloon?
Bayliss: I mean one little balloon the size of someone’s balls?
Cummins: Come on, next time you can do better than that.
Bayliss: At least bring two balloons…
(Bayliss and Cummins introduce Scott Hannay and return to the balloon convo)
Bayliss: I didn’t mean to offend the guy who brought the balloon by saying it was pathetic, which it is, but at least bring a bigger balloon, or I hope there was something in it.
Cummins: Yeah, we still like you, but there’s room for improvement.

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