Review: Jake and Brendan Acoustic Christmas Show

Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss @ Park West, December 10

Words and Images: Charles Izenstark

In the season of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, one day that many Chicago music fans always look forward to is the day of Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger’s annual acoustic holiday show. Year after year, the Umphrey’s McGee guitarists always manage to assemble a number of special guests to help them celebrate the holiday season and raise money for a charitable cause. This year’s effort (as well as the pre-show Umphrey’s McGee “garage sale”) benefited the People’s Music School, a Chicago institution that provides music education to Chicago area children.Fittingly, the evening began with their children’s chorus singing the Beatles’ chestnut Octopus’s Garden and the holiday classic Christmas Time is Here before the stage was surrendered to Jake and Brendan.

Seated on a couch in front of a Christmas tree (and a menorah), Brendan set the tone for the evening by announcing that this was his second favorite night of the year, second only to the night before when he and Jake get to commune and figure out what songs to work up. The duo then quickly launched into a trio of original tunes (Sweetness, Water and August) that served to loosen them up before they were joined on stage by Steve Krojniewski (drummer from Umphrey’s precursor/Cinninger side project Ali Baba’s Tahini) and Mike Rackey (pedal steel player from Chicago based band Davenport Ed), for three tunes including the Bob Seger classic Travelin’ Man.

Brendan and Jake were then left alone for a glorious version of Umphrey’s Hajimemashite. This version more closely echoed the one on the recently released Death By Stereo than the more rocking version that Umphreaks are accustomed to in concert and was a stark reminder that sometimes a song gets more powerful when it is stripped down to the bare essentials. Bayliss then donned a mandolin, and announced that he had wanted to play the next song ever since he was fourteen, before launching into Led Zeppelin’s Hey, Hey, What Can I Do, which also served to confirm that Cinninger should be required to play some Zeppelin wherever he goes. Bayliss then invited the evening’s master of ceremonies, Barry Brown (from local rockers Jack Straw), to join them on piano for the 30db song Susanah and Dire Straits’ So Far Away


Next up was the fruit of Brendan and Jake’s communing from the previous night as Jake launched into what seemed to be a version of Bowie’s Space Oddity, but was soon revealed to be a cleverly re-penned version dubbed “A Santa Odyssey” (“Ground control to Santa Claus”) complete with its own redone tease (Santa Please to the music of Can’t You See) that brought continued laughter from the audience, and should become a staple of future holiday shows.

Brendan then dedicated the next tune, a solo piano version of Billy Joel’s She’s Always a Woman, to his friend Mike LeMaistre, the Billy Joel hating producer of the show, before calling out his old friend Dave Thompson to join him and sing Simon and Garfunkel’s The Only Living Boy in New Yorkwhich showcased Thompson in the difficult Garfunkel role, which he handled with seeming ease.

As Thompson left the stage, Michelle Hallman (from the late lamented Chicago band Butterfly McQueen) joined Jake and Brendan for a sweet soaring version of Bullhead City, a song which has become a hallmark of this annual occasion. Ms. Hallman then treated the audience to her version of Who’s Loving You before Jake supplanted her at the piano for his rendition of ELO’s Can’t Get it Out of My Head. Jake and Brendan then settled back into the couch for a rousing version of Nothing Too Fancy before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.

After a pause to conduct the raffle benefitting the People’s Music School, Brendan returned to the piano and Jake grabbed a bass (which Brendan had previously employed on So Far Away) and the pair launched into a thumping version of INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart. Next, Ms. Hallman returned to the stage and stole the entire evening with her amazing a capella version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas before she led the boys, in a spirited tribute to the recently deceased Dobie Gray, with her soaring vocals on Drift Away providing a poignant conclusion to the evening.

12.10.11 – Park West, Chicago, Illinois
acoustic show – Brendan and Jake

One Set: Sweetness > Water, August, Resolution^, Travelin’ Man [Bob Seger], End of the Road**, Hajimemashite, Hey Hey What Can I Do@ [Led Zeppelin], Susanah**@^^, So Far Away^^$ [Dire Straits], Santa Odyssey$$, She’s Always A Woman% [Billy Joel], The Only Living Boy In New York%% [Paul Simon], Bullhead City^**&, Who’s Loving You& [The Jackson 5], Can’t Get It Out of My Head^$&& [Electric Ligh Orchestra], Nothing Too Fancy
Encore: Never Tear Us Apart^@@# [INXS], Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas&, Drift Away^&# [Mentor Williams]
ninth annual Acoustic Christmas Show; proceeds benefited The People’s Music School of Chicago
prior to the show, a choir from the Peoples Music School sang Octopus’s Garden [The Beatles] and Christmas Time Is Here
* People School of Music children’s choir only
^ with Steve Krojniewski (Ali Baba’s Tahini) on drums
** with Mike Rackey on pedal steel guitar
@ with Brendan on mandolin
^^ with Barry Brown on piano
$ with Brendan on bass
$$ Space Oddity [David Bowie] with Christmas-themed lyrics by Jake; with Can’t You See teases
% Brendan on piano and vocals, solo
%% just Brendan on piano and Dave Thompson on vocals
& with Michelle Hallman on vocals, and piano for Who’s Loving You
&& with Jake on piano
@@ with Brendan on piano
# with Jake on bass


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