Hidden Track Review: Umphrey’s McGee S2 – In Which UM Shows Their Hand

Where do these guys get off? It’s not enough that they sold out five of their last eight shows of the tour, but now they start charging $100/head to fucking watch them rehearse? What a bullshit money-grab. But this sentence, that I promised to open with, couldn’t be farther from the truth. What Chicago-based sextet Umphrey’s McGee is accomplishing by throwing these events effectively demonstrates what separates the men from the boys in the world of improvisational music.

Atmosphere of S2

A little background. S2 is an hour-long session – this one was closer to 75 minutes – with 50 fans who buy tickets and the members of UM and their crew. There is a giant projection screen visible to both the band and those in the audience and the attendees are encouraged to use their cell phones to text in themed suggestions. The texts arrive on UM sound caresser Kevin Browning’s laptop and he decides what gets put up on the screen for the next section of music. There were four sections of improv – containing between 9-12 themes – with short Q&As between featuring questions from the audience hosted by Lighting Crew Chief Wade Wilby.

More background: we need to look at 2009 as a whole and look at how these events are the perfect culmination of what I equate to the poker term of “showing your hand.” UM has always taken a methodical and precise approach to their music and to a degree their improvisation. The concept of “Jimmy Stewart” was explained in its best detail to date right here on Hidden Track in August of 2008 with help from the band and the band’s street team coordinator Jon McLennand. And in case it was not apparent from the written form, S2 is a variation on “Stew” short for Stewart. They also call these events Stew Art. READ ON for more on S2…

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