Music labels can be helpful when used to define a band to neophytes, or it can be a hindrance when a descriptive term jumps the shark. In the 1970s, the tags “Prog Rock” and “Fusion” went out of favor when many bands in those genres succumbed to their own musical excesses. The Jam Band moniker also almost took a left turn a while ago for similar reasons.
Umphrey’s McGee has battled those demons as well, with people trying to put their round peg into various square holes. Yes, this band that came together at Notre Dame University in the late 1990s is heavily influenced by the Prog Rock scene of decades earlier, yet they have also been inserted into the greater Jam Band envelope. That has led to the term “Improg,” which should be ignored at all costs.
What Umphrey’s McGee does do very well is use their Rock & Roll instrumentation to improvise and expand their musical vision while including the audience in ways that some of those previously mentioned genres never did.
After making their mark at the first-ever Bonnaroo festival, the band’s following has continued to grow. Their latest album is called Similar Skin, a more mature effort featuring some songs actually less than four minutes long. Umphrey’s live shows, however, are still expansive and fun.
UMPHREY'S MCGEE plays at Taft Theatre Friday, Jan. 30. Find tickets/more info here.