NEPA Scene Staff

Prog rockers Umphrey’s McGee jam at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe on Jan. 28

Prog rockers Umphrey’s McGee jam at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe on Jan. 28
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From a press release:

After playing at the Peach Music Festival in Scranton over the last few years and selling out the Beacon Theatre in New York City this weekend, Chicago progressive jam rock band Umphrey’s McGee will perform at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe on Sunday, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m.

Tickets, which are $25 in advance or $28 the day of the show, are on sale now at all Ticketmaster outlets, the Penn’s Peak box office (325 Maury Rd., Jim Thorpe), and Roadies Restaurant and Bar (325 Maury Rd., Jim Thorpe). Penn’s Peak box office and Roadies Restaurant ticket sales are walk-up only; no phone orders.

The music of Umphrey’s McGee unfolds like an unpredictable conversation between longtime friends. Its six participants – Brendan Bayliss (guitar, vocals), Jake Cinninger (guitar, vocals), Joel Cummins (keyboards, piano, vocals), Andy Farag (percussion), Kris Myers (drums, vocals), and Ryan Stasik (bass) – know just how to communicate with each other on stage and in the studio. A call of progressive guitar wizardry might elicit a response of soft acoustic balladry or a funk groove could be answered by explosive percussion. At any moment, heavy guitars can give way to heavier blues as the boys uncover the elusive nexus between jaw-dropping instrumental virtuosity and airtight songcraft.

The conversation continues on their 11th full-length album, “It’s Not Us,” released on Jan. 12 via Nothing Too Fancy Music.

“It represents the band because it basically runs the gamut from prog rock to dance,” says Bayliss. “We’ve mastered our ADD here. The record really shows that.”

“No matter what you’re into, there’s something on ‘It’s Not Us’ that should speak to you,” agrees Cummins. “This is a statement album for Umphrey’s McGee. The sound is as fresh as ever. The songs are strong as they’ve ever been. We’re always pushing forward.”

It is also how the band is celebrating its 20-year anniversary. Instead of retreading the catalog, they turn up with a pile of new tunes.

“It’d be easy to play the hits from our first five or 10 years,” continues Cummins. “We’ve never been a band to rest on our laurels, though. New music is key to our continued development. We’re known as a strong live band, but we take so much pride in our writing. This album distinguishes us because the focus is on that writing.”

Their camaraderie shines through in their inimitable interplay, which finds them at the pinnacle of their craft and groove as a band. That chemistry defines the approach, which sees Umphrey’s McGee hone their songwriting to its sharpest point to date.

“I feel like we’re getting better and better at writing succinct, concise musical pieces,” Bayliss elaborates. “When we started out, we were trying to figure out how to fill time. We didn’t have much of a catalog, so we had to extend things and repeat parts in order to make up space. Since our catalog is so big now, we don’t feel the need to make everything 10 minutes long. We’ve really trimmed the fat. Everything seems to be the right length.”

With over 2,200 gigs and five million tracks sold, they’ve enjoyed countless milestones. 2002 saw them perform at the first-ever Bonnaroo and sell more CDs than any other act on the bill. They became the “first group to launch its own single artist streaming service” with umlive.net, which houses recordings of every gig since 2005. The service has since grown and now lives on through nugs.net, which is used by the likes of Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, and more. They recorded 10 tracks in one day at Abbey Road for “The London Session” in 2015. Notably, 2016’s “Zonkey” mashed up the strangest of bedfellows into a critically acclaimed collection that unites Radiohead and Beck, The Weeknd and Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads and Bob Marley, Metallica and Gorillaz, and more.

That adventurousness extends to their legendary audience immersion experiences. From their initial bar gigs in 1998 to three nights playing to packed crowds at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2017, the group have simultaneously remained intensely committed to their fans. Beyond intimate backstage encounters and ski trips with their most diehard fans, Umphrey’s McGee instituted the groundbreaking “Headphones & Snowcones” program, granting fans access to professional headphones and a soundboard-quality mix at shows. At their UMBowl, they empowered the audience to vote on the setlist in real-time and choose favorite improv themes via text message. In 2017, they stepped into another realm altogether by integrating themselves into the VR Platform Endless Riff.

With the new album, a headlining tour and a three-night Beacon Theatre residency plotted to celebrate the anniversary, “It’s Not Us” kicks off a new era for Umphrey’s McGee and their ever-growing audience.

“There’s something uniquely Umphrey’s McGee that could never be mistaken for another band,” Cummins concludes. “I hope it makes people think a little bit or shed a tear or two. Maybe you smile or laugh. Life is hard. We still believe music can heal and motivate.”

“We’re here,” Bayliss leaves off. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re starting to find our identity. I think if you give it a chance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”