by Amy Harris
Posted In: Live Music
at 10:37 AM | Permalink
Long-running jam band superstars play the Taft Theatre tonight
Umphrey’s McGee is one of the most popular bands in America on the Jam Band scene. Its sound can attract an eclectic audience with hints of Rock, Jazz and R&B and the well-rounded, phenomenal musicians in the lineup. The band has been touring nationally for over 15 years and is a staple on the summer festival scene. Umphrey’s have produced eight studio records; its most recent offering, Similar Skin, was released in the middle of last year.
CityBeat caught up with keyboard player Joel Cummins and discussed the changes over the years on the road and the fun and challenge of making every show a unique experience for the audience. The band plays the big room at the Taft Theater tonight at 8 p.m.; TAUK opens.
CityBeat: Your band is so famous for having ever-changing set lists. How do you determine what you are going to play each night?
Joel Cummins: We use a lot of different ways to figure out what to play. One of the main ones we use now is a website called allthings.umphreys.com, developed by a friend that has a complete tour history and everything we have played. It is a really interesting and interactive site that the fans can use to see what they haven’t seen us play before. We use it to look back and see what we have played in certain markets or make sure we do something different and don’t repeat the same thing. It is a really useful tool.
As far as making the set list, I will compile a history of whatever it is that we have played and whoever is feeling it that day will pick songs and make a set list for that night. It’s interesting — one of the things that makes it fun for the fans is that any combination of the six of us can write a set list, we try to mix it up throughout the tour so it is staying fresh for us and the fans every day. And now that we have about 180 original tunes, we have quite a few to choose from every day. So it is nice to be able to play for five or six days in a row and not have to repeat a song.
CB: I am just amazed that you can remember that many songs over that period. It is very impressive.
JC: You get to a point where you learn a song and as you are thinking about it and connecting the thoughts to the hands … after a while it becomes muscle memory. I think the only reason we are able to do this is because we made sure we play all these songs at a minimum once every couple months so you still remember it and we know how to play them. When we do different covers, one or two every show, we may only play those once or twice a year so that is something where we will run those entire songs the day of the shows and pick what we want to do to get it back. Thank God for muscle memory or we’d be in big trouble otherwise.
CB: You guys have been together for almost 20 years now. Have you experienced multi-generational fans yet?
JC: We have. It is a pretty cool thing. There are a lot of things I never expected to hear when we were talking to fans. Certainly one of those things is finding parents and their kids who are both fans, finding all these people that have said they make great friends at the shows and (travel) around the country to see each other, maybe somebody met their husband or their wife at a show. Those personal connections and stories that have happened with the band because of our music I think are one of the main things that keep me looking forward to the shows because I know that there are a lot of people out there that this means a lot to. It’s an engaging thing musically, but it has become a really cool social event bringing people together. Our fans, more than most bands, like to have a good time but they are there for the music. You go to our shows, you are going to meet some friendly, hopefully intelligent people. Our fans aren’t starting fights or getting crazy. It is cool to see the community develop as it has. It is something I never imagined that would happen.
CB: I (photograph) a lot of different genres of music and talk to a lot of different people. The Jam Band music scene seems to be a little more collaborative and supportive group with each other. You have collaborated with a ton of artists over the years. Do you have any favorite collaborations you have done? How do you go about choosing who you are going to work with next?
JC: I think some of that sense of community emanated from the festival scene. It is interesting because it is a shared thing with the bands as well as the fans. One of the things I do is Jam Cruise; I have done 11 of the 12 of them. I know all the artists like family. It’s cool to have these bonds develop and I think because of the style of music we play, because it is more collaborative and there are a lot of good musicians on the scene, it encourages the idea of collaboration.
If I had to name one as my favorite, we actually just got to play three concerts in New York with Joshua Redman, who is this really talented, really adventurous sax player. He has won Grammys and played with the best of the best, and the fact that he still wants to come back and play with us every once in a while is a really great challenge for us and really engaging to do. I think we have one of the most extreme varieties of styles in our music. As a result, we either play with people like Josh, who are in the Jazz scene, or someone like Mavis Staples, who is obviously a legendary R&B singer. We are friends with Huey Lewis, who is one of the most amazing guys out there in the music business, (and we’ve played more) current things like something Electronic with STS9 or something acoustic with Yonder Mountain String Band. I think we are lucky that we are in the time we are because bands used to be more closed off and competitive with other acts out there. It is a lot more fun when you can be friends with people and make music together.
CB: You lost your original drummer, Mike Mirro, last year.
JC: Yeah, inevitably things come up (about him) all the time. Most of the time it’s funny things that he said or jokes that have carried on. Most recently, we did a holiday show with some members of the band in Chicago. He actually has a charity now in his name, the Michael A. Mirro fund for Neuroscience Studies. We were able to give a pretty sizable chunk of money to that. It is good to have his presence pop up in daily conversations, but even more than that, the charitable aspect of trying to contribute to studies that help people who have the challenges like Mike had. We miss him dearly and he was a close personal friend, so even though he wasn’t with us in the band anymore (when he passed away), we had collaborated a bunch of times since he left the band. It was a really horrible, tragic loss.
CB: The festival lineups are being announced really early this year. Can you tell me what you look most forward to with the festival performances? What do you think is one of your greatest festival moments?
JC: I think the artist camaraderie is a really exciting thing with festivals. We have been lucky to play so many great festivals. One of our favorite annual ones we always do is Summer Camp in Illinois and that is something we co-headline with moe. and they always have other great headlining artists. Steve Miller Band is going to play this year. Widespread Panic is going to come back. There are a lot of great artist always at that one.
As far as career defining festivals for us, I’d have to go with Bonnaroo. We played the first one. Up to that point we had been playing at clubs in Cincinnati like Ripley’s, and maybe the Southgate House. We got asked to be a part of that first Bonnaroo. We were nervous because we got like a 5 p.m. Friday slot. We were wondering if anyone was even going to be there yet. We ended up playing in front of 10,000 people that day, a completely jam-packed tent. It was in 2002, and that was our first moment where maybe people knew who we were on a national scene. That is something I will always remember.
CB: You mentioned some bars you played in Cincinnati over the years. Do you have any favorite Cincinnati moments or memories?
JC: There are lots, to be honest. One of the early ones I’ll never forget. We played the last night at Ripley’s before it closed with our buddies Ray’s Music Exchange, a great Cincinnati band. That was kind of an emotional and cool night. That was the first night of us going out on a tour on the East Coast and Ray’s was headed out to the West Coast. I also remember probably just three or four years ago, one of my favorite things we did (was when) we played at Moonlite Gardens and Mad Dog, who is Ray’s former trumpet player, put together a horn section for us. We did a little back and forth competition, playing songs back and forth, and we had the horns up in the balcony and we were on stage and it was just one of those cool unique moments that hasn’t happened before. People are always trying to come up with fun things like that to do. You never know with Cincinnati because there are guys looking to get some kicks out once in a while and do something interesting and out of the box.
The Taft is one of our favorite rooms to play. I think we have only played there twice before. It is exciting to come into one of your favorite rooms and play for a sold-out crowd.
Friday • Taft Theatre
0 Comments · Wednesday, January 28, 2015
After making their mark at the first-ever
Bonnaroo festival, the band’s following has continued to grow.
Thursday • Taft Theatre
0 Comments · Wednesday, January 28, 2015
more than four decades, Keb’ Mo’ has been considered one of the leading
contemporary lights in the Delta Blues tradition, a guitarist of
infinite skill and invention who can easily play straight Delta
translations or seamlessly hybridize the genre with dashes of Pop, Jazz,
Folk and Rock.
Friday • Taft Theatre
0 Comments · Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Rodney Carrington is a songwriter and
comedian who is not afraid to go “blue,” talking about the things we all
experience in life that are of an adult nature.
Friday • Taft Theatre
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Equal parts fun
and fierce, the Indie Pop sextet PHOX delivers the exact sound required for
properly shaking off the way-too-early cold weather we’ve been
by Charlie Harmon
Posted In: Music History
at 04:32 PM | Permalink
into the decorated light cast from the looming ceilings of the Taft Theatre,
it’s immediately apparent the space holds memory far outreaching your own. That
is, of course, unless you’re about 100 years old and happened to be around
Cincinnati in your early teens.
were the case, you’d probably remember the other awe-inspiring theaters that
entertained the Queen City in those days: the Albee, Shubert and Capitol, to
name a few — all astounding architectural representations of the heyday of local
theaters. Sadly, the Taft is the only of those grand structures that still
remains today, likely because it stands just far enough away from the heart of
downtown, just missing out on the urban redevelopment that has defined the city
for the past half-century or so.
was opened in January 1928, inaugurated by lines of suited men and
flower-hatted women who were willing to brace the 40-degree weather of the new
year for the warm spectacle of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a shining
new entertainment venue.
is part of the Cincinnati Masonic Center, then called a temple rather than
center, and is currently owned by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. In its
early days it would host Broadway shows, ballets and traveling performers and
artists, among other entertainment.
contrary to what some might think, is not a nod to the former United States
president William Howard Taft, although many likely know of the street we have
to honor him. Rather, the theater was a tip of the hat to William’s older
brother, Charles Phelps Taft, a major figure in the Cincinnati newspaper
business and a high-ranking Mason who lived just down the street from where the
theater now stands.
was very popular during its early days and became popular again in the new millennium,
the theatre went through a largely dormant period in the second half of the 20th
century. In fact, the Scottish Rite applied for demolition rights twice in the
1960s — although they were rejected both times — because they thought the theater
would be too expensive to renovate and wanted to replace it with a parking
hung on and didn’t fall into serious disrepair long enough for Music and Event
Management, a subsidiary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, to take over in
2010. The company headlined a $3.2 million renovation, less than a third of the
value the Masons had been quoted for renovations decades earlier.
finished in 2011, increased the size of the seats, lowering the original capacity
of 2,500 to about 2,300, as well as the size of the bathrooms — fewer venue
seats, but more toilet seats (does this say something about the needs of folks
in the new millennium?). They also took great consideration of modern concerns,
spending a heavy load on hooking the building up with eco-friendly air
the restoration and rejuvenation of the old theater, it now holds about 140
shows a year compared to roughly 90 before renovations, and the annual
attendance has also almost doubled. The theater is again one of Cincinnati’s
hot spots for entertainment, hosting all kinds of musical concerts as well as
theatre, being home to the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. With the upsurge
in activity at the beautiful old Masonic Amphitheatre, the tall walls can keep
holding and building memories of entertainment that life would be oh-so boring
by Mike Breen
Avi Buffalo plays a free show tonight at MOTR Pub at 10 p.m. Cincinnati’s Founding Fathers open.
Avi Buffalo began when Californian teenager Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg began home-recording songs in high school. After completing high school, he had a full band and an offer from esteemed indie label SubPop Records quickly followed. Avi Buffalo’s sublime, ethereal Indie Pop wowed critics and fans alike upon the release of the band’s self-titled SubPop debut in 2010. There’s a sense of wonder, romance and mystery in Zahner-Isenberg songs, something even more evident on the group’s highly anticipated sophomore full-length, At Best Cuckold, which was released in early September and drew even higher praise from critics. Fans of The Shins and Grandaddy will appreciate the wispy, beautifully melodic genius of Avi Buffalo’s songs, which caress the eardrums as they burrow into the listener’s cranium.
• Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s Indie Chamber Pop project San Fermin returns to Cincinnati tonight for a show at the new Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine. The ensemble performed one of its first shows ever at last year’s MidPoint Music Festival in Cincinnati; despite their debut album not being out yet, the concert still sold out. Check out Jason Gargano’s interview with Ludwig-Leone from last week's CityBeat here.
Tonight’s show at the Woodward kicks off at 8:30 p.m. with a performance by Mikhael Paskalev. Tickets are $17.
• AltPop singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson plays the Taft Theatre tonight. Chris Koza opens the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-$30.Michelson has built a large fan base and experienced chart success since her self-released debut album, Slow the Rain, came out in the middle of the last decade; her next album, Girls and Boys, was her breakthrough, garnering mainstream attention after various tracks were used on TV shows (most notably, Grey’s Anatomy). Despite offers from big corporate labels, Michaelson has remained largely a DIY artist, putting albums out through her own Cabin 24 label (though she now has distribution through the notoriously artist-friendly Mom + Pop Music imprint).
Here is the recently unveiled video for “Afterlife,” the second single from this year’s Lights Out album. The new LP was her most collaborative yet; written and recorded after bouts with illnesses and other issues that left her in a dark place, Michelson collaborated with a range of producers and fellow songwriters.
Click here for more live music options in Greater Cincinnati tonight.
by Mike Breen
One of the few “Alternative Revolution” bands left over from the ’90s, Primus, returns to Cincinnati tonight for a special show at the Taft Theatre. The veteran band is still one of the more unique and eccentric groups around that maintains a large fan base. That’s singularity might have something to do with their longevity. Primus has never had anything to do with flash-in-the-pan musical fads. Les Claypool and Co.’s latest is a blissfully oddball addition to an already blissfully oddball discography. Primus and the Chocolate Factory is a creative interpretation of the music from the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film. Reviews from previous live shows on Primus’ tour for the album say the band opens with a set of Primus hits; the second set focuses on Chocolate Factory, replete with matching stage production. Check out Charlie Harmon’s preview of the show for CityBeat here.
Tickets for tonight’s show are $39.50-$45. Showtime is 8 p.m.
• One of Greater Cincinnati’s most unique annual music events, the Blues & Boogie Piano Summit, returns for its 15th year this weekend. For the 2014 edition, the showcase of international Boogie Woogie Blues pianists takes place over two nights (Friday and Saturday) at the Southgate House Revival.
The Boogie Piano Summit was founded by Ricky Nye, Cincinnati’s top purveyor of Boogie Woogie, a rollicking, highly rhythmic style of Blues piano that was influential in the formation and development of Rock & Roll and various styles of Blues, Jazz and Country music. This year’s edition of the Summit is dedicated to the “New Breed of Boogie Woogie,” showcasing three players all under the age of 30 (the same lineup performs both nights). The event features Switzerland’s Chris Conz, Iowa’s Chase Garrett and Germany’s Luca Sestak (watch clips from each below).
Click here for more on the show.
Tickets are $30 for a seat or $25 for standing room only. (Save $5 on tomorrow’s show by purchasing them in advance here.)
• The Rusty Ball, organized and starring fun, popular local ’80s cover group The Rusty Griswolds returns to the Duke Energy Convention Center tomorrow night at 8 p.m.. Tickets range from $75-$175. The show is the Griswolds' annual charitable event, with proceeds going to numerous local charities (the show has generated nearly $2 million for over 300 charities since it began in 2008). Special guest this year is ’80s/’90s Pop star Taylor Dayne. Click here for full details.
• Toronto Rock twosome catl. performs a free show Saturday at MOTR Pub. It’s a night of duos, as the Canadians are joined by locals Halvsies and Brooklyn’s Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne. Showtime is 10 p.m.
Here’s a clip for catl.’s bluesy, boogying “Gotta Thing for You” from their album Soon This Will All Be Gone. This spring the band released its fourth album, The Shakin’ House.
• Rootsy Nashville rockers The Wild Feathers play Oakley’s 20th Century Theater on Sunday. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $15 in advance or $17 day of show.
The Wild Feathers began at the start of the decade, when guitarist/singer Ricky Young and bassist/singer Joel King decided to put together a band that featured four lead vocalists, each as important as the next. The resulting ensemble, with the addition of guitarists/singers Taylor Burns and Preston Wimberly (Ben Dumas plays drums) clicked instantly. The band signed to Warner Bros. and released its self-titled debut last year. Rolling Stone gave the album a glowing review, saying the LP brings to mind “everyone from the Allman Brothers ("Hard Wind") to the Jayhawks ("Got It Wrong”),” and that “the five-piece band fuses the essentials of rock, country, folk and blues into an intriguing new approach.”
• Influential British Metal crew Carcass performs Sunday at Covington’s Madison Theater. Considered pioneers of Grindcore and melodic Death Metal, the band was also a favorite of British taste-making DJ John Peel. Carcass split up in the ’90s but reunited in 2007 for a string of shows, leading up to their entire back catalog being reissued. In 2013, the group released its first album of new music in 16 years, Surgical Steel. Next week the band is releasing a five song EP, Surgical Remission/Surplus Steel, which features tracks recorded during the Surgical Steel sessions.
Here’s the lyric video for the EP’s “Livestock Marketplace”:
Read Brian Baker’s preview of the show here.
Carcass headlines the Madison Sunday with fellow Metal giants Obituary and guests Exhumed and Noisem. Showtime is 8 p.m. The show is open to all ages. Tickets are $25.
• The local chapter of the Guitars For Vets nonprofit organization, which provides musical therapy in the form of guitar lessons to military veterans at the local VA Hospital suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, presents its second annual benefit this Sunday at 1 p.m. at Jim and Jack’s on the River (jimandjacks.net). The event is free and features performances by noted local guitarists Sonny Moorman and Dick Buchholz, who will perform with Guitar For Vets students. There will also be a guitar auction and raffle to raise funds for the cause. For more information on Guitars For Vets, visit guitars4vets.org.
Click here for more live music events this weekend in Greater Cincinnati.
Friday • Taft Theatre
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Les Claypool is what you might think of
as a dark magician of music. An accomplished though bizarre bassist and
vocalist, he is the driving mind behind the hardly definable band
Tuesday • Taft Theatre
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 17, 2014
The music bug bit Sarah Jaffe early. And hard.