For its Halloween show this year, the South Bend, Indiana sextet Umphrey's McGee continued what's become a fright-night jam-band tradition: the costume show. But they didn't go the dead-rock-star route, as labelmates String Cheese Incident did a few years ago. Instead, they one-upped them. The theme: celebrity criminals. The costumes: Pee-wee Herman, Courtney Love, Pete Rose, and others. The set list: samplings from every alleged pop-star criminal -- ranging from R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" to Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" -- along with rapid-fire songs from the band's album, Anchor Drops.
"It definitely covers the musical spectrum," keyboardist Joel Cummins (costume: Jerry Lee Lewis) says of the band's self-described "ADD" sound, which can veer within a single composition from mile-a-minute-guitar solos to funk-influenced grooves to piano-bop breakdowns. "It's all about the Jedi mind tricks. We've found [that the key] is how you make the transition from one part to another. Sometimes it's better to take a huge left turn and hit people in the face with it. Before a song is played out live, we've been playing with it and messing with the arrangement for a couple weeks."
That kind of dedication -- and experimentation -- has given the band a healthy following in both the jam and prog-rock communities, thanks not only to the music but to the band's allegiance to jam bands like moe. (whose "Rebubula" was one of the first songs Umphrey's learned) and its love of even the corniest prog-rockers. "Dream Theater? Man, those guys are amazing," says Cummins. "That's definitely something that we're trying to live up to."