Umphrey's McGee plays hometown shows this weekend
Who wants a little jam with their Thanksgiving leftovers?
That's what's on the menu Friday and Saturday, Nov. 25 and 26, at the Aragon Entertainment Center in Chicago as the nation's preeminent prog rock jam band and Chicago's own, Umphrey's McGee, takes the stage.
The band's drummer, Palatine native Kris Myers, is excited about playing to a hometown crowd and getting to show off some of the band's newer songs from their latest release "Death By Stereo."
"Playing in Chicago is comforting because I have family and friends at the show," he said by phone recently. "It's like you get a sense of nostalgia playing here."
Myers is using some of the band's holiday down time to teach drumming, but took a break to talk about the band's songwriting process, how they decide on album names and to delve into the glorious comedic subgenre of drummer jokes.
Q. Are Chicago audiences good audiences?
A. I think Chicago audiences are perhaps the best audiences in the United States and maybe worldwide. It's a big city with a big city mentality and energy, but it's got that Midwest hospitality, and they're humble and hungry for music.
Q. You don't think they talk too much and are a little too social during sets?
A. Sometimes there's a little bit of that in any city, really. I'm kind of used to that within the scene and subculture of the so-called jam band. People not only go for the music, but to hang with friends. I don't expect to have full control over everyone in the audience, but I do the best to get their attention and keep it.
Q. As a hometowner, where do you think the best music venue in Chicago is?
A. I'm a little biased, but my favorite shows, with all things considered, would be at a club like Martyrs'. It's a real comfortable venue that sounds really great. Big, beautiful rooms are also awesome. The Aragon brings a certain nostalgia value to the experience, but if you ask any musician, acoustic-wise it's awful. You have to have a really great sound crew that knows what they're doing and we're lucky that we do. If it were big venues, the Chicago Theatre and the Auditorium Theatre are two of my favorites.
Q. How much are the two shows going to sound the same?
A. They're going to be different. That's the way it is. The band abides by a certain rule that we have a certain rotation to play in our set lists. That's what our fans expect. We may play the same song from one night to the next, but we may extend sections of a song that wasn't like it was the night before. It's not like a lot of pop acts where it's like listening to the album at the concert. You might as well just listen to the album in your car. Luckily, we have a fan base that wants the complete opposite of that.
Q. How did you guys come up with the album title "Death by Stereo?"
A. You go through a lot of ideas and sometimes things just come up randomly. We put a list together and talk about it and the general feel of the album. In this case, it's a line from the movie "The Lost Boys" when one of the vampires is killed by a radio by one of the kids, either Corey Haim or Corey Feldman. It was just clever to us. It was edgy and fun. It fit the vibe of the songs.
Q. What's the songwriting process like for you guys?
A. It can take a month or two of working on it before it gets to the point where it's ready to be the version that we record. We want to play it over and over again and play it on the road to break it in a little bit to see how the crowd reacts to it.
Q. So was the new song "Booth Love" always as groovy as it is on the album?
A. It sort of evolved into that. Originally it sounded like a sexier, slow disco or house R&B track. I added the kicks and snares into it and it started sounding like an old Prince track.
Q. On "Death by Stereo," it sounds like the song "Conduit" would be the most fun for you to play as a drummer, right?
A. All the songs are fun in different ways. "Conduit" is great because it reminds me of elements and influences that I grew up with all in one song. To me it really sounds like an Umphrey's McGee song.
Q. Do you like the label of "jam band?"
A. That particular label sounds like another classification on a certain level to write people off. That Americana sound and that live improvisation sound is very much part of the so-called jam band community and I'm proud to be part of it. There's an element of humanity in this music and we need more of that human element in music today.
Q. Where's the strangest place you've ever been recognized?
A. Maybe at an airport terminal, but what's better than that is I've randomly heard us being talked about as I walk down the street and I'll jump into the conversation. I'll joke around and say, "I think they're overrated." Then they usually realize I'm in the band.
Q. Who would win a "Devil Went Down to Georgia"-style drum battle between Neil Peart (of Rush) and Carl Palmer (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer)?
A. That is a tough one. They're both progressive, inventive drummers. I don't know that anyone would win. They would both explode before anyone would win anything. But I've got to go with Neil Peart, he's the best in my opinion.
Q. What's your favorite drummer joke?
A. Ha! Whatever that most basic one is. It goes something like: What's the difference between a pizza delivery man and a drummer? A pizza delivery guy can feed a family of four.
Q. How about: What do you do when a drummer knocks on your door? Pay him for the pizza.
A. Yeah, that's a good one too. Let's go with that one.
Q. Would you let your daughter date a drummer?
A. It depends on what kind of band it is. No, I'm kidding. Of course I would. Though I would be worried if it was some band like Guns N' Roses.
Umphrey's McGeeWhere: Aragon Entertainment Center, 1106 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, (773) 769-3294 or aragon.com
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 25-26