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Umphrey’s to jam out Sunday at the Calvin

Umphrey’s McGee is one of the bigger names in the jam band scene these days. As a progressive rock band, they have managed to perfect their jamming formula, which will more than likely be in its top form when they perform this Sunday at the Calvin Theatre.

The band has gathered a devoted following since they formed in 1997. With five studio albums already under their belt in addition to a number of live albums, Umphrey’s McGee has become what the Washington Post calls “rock’s undisputed lord of sonic shape-shifting.”

Umphrey’s McGee’s latest album, “Mantis,” was released in Jan. 2009. The album is a first for Umphrey’s, as they composed the material for the CD completely in the studio. Normally, they ‘road test’ most of their songs at live performances before they make it to the studio, but this is not the case with their new album.

The band is famous for its “Jimmy Stewarts,” live improvisational jams that they play at nearly every concert. The jams are completely original and rarely include any planned elements. Sometimes these jams will become full-fledged songs if the band really likes what they come up with, as in the case of “Ocean Billy,” “Bridgeless” and “#5.”

The band members have remained consistent since they first played together at the University of Notre Dame on a cold December day in 1997. The band started off with guitarist and vocalist Brendan Bayliss, keyboardist Joel Cummins, bassist Ryan Stasik, and drummer Mike Mirro.

After only 8 months together, they released their first studio album, “Greatest Hits Vol. III,” and shortly thereafter added a fifth member, percussionist Andy Farag. In September of 2000, guitarist Jake Cinninger, previously of Ali Baba’s Tahini, joined Umphrey’s McGee, bringing with him a new heaviness to the band’s sound.

In 2002, Umphrey’s, as they are often affectionately called by fans, had the honor of being one of e bands to perform at the first Bonnaroo, playing to one of their biggest crowds to date and selling more CDs than any other artist there. The band was invited back to Bonnaroo in 2004, where they played for an even larger crowd, and has played numerous Lollapalooza shows.

The band almost broke up in late 2002, when Mirro left to attend medical school. Farag reviewed hundreds of tapes, however, before finally settling on drummer Kris Myers to replace Mirro.

Currently the band is touring America, selling out shows coast to coast and jamming all across the country. Umphrey’s McGee will be playing throughout New England until March 5th, when they will be moving the tour to Ohio.

The band will also offer a $20 voucher for purchase at the show on Sunday that, 10 minutes after the completion of the concert, will be redeemable for a live album from the show. This is a ritual the band has had since 2003.

Umphrey’s is relatively good-natured live. They try to make their shows as humorous as possible. With lights, image screens and sometimes even laser shows, the band is bound to put on a good show this Sunday.

Umphrey’s McGee will be playing on Sunday at the Calvin Theatre  in Northampton, Mass. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $21. Tickets are still available on the Iron Horse Entertainment Group’s website, iheg.com.

Tappan Parker can be reached at rtparker@student.umass.edu.

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