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Umphrey's McGee at the Fillmore, 5 Things To Know

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Umphrey's McGee has spent the past 20 years or so staking a claim as one of the country's leading "jam bands" -- and certainly one of its most ambitious and unpredictable.

Take the group's latest project, "Zonkey," for example. The album's 12 tracks mash up favorite material from other bands -- such as Bob Marley's "Exodus" and Talking Head's "Life During Wartime" for "Life During Exodus," or Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue" into AC/DC's "Highway To Hell" for "Electric Avenue To Hell." It quickly became a favorite with fans used to seeing the sextet perform those mash-ups in concerts over the years.

A new studio album is in the works now, but Umphrey's natural habitat remains the road, where the group makes sure that the faithful seldom, if ever, hear the same thing twice...

Keyboardist Joel Cummins says that for "Zonkey," Umphrey's "got really meticulous with recreating the sounds and trying to make every part of every sound as authentic as possible as the original. The reason we went into the studio to do 'Zonkey' was we felt it was so hard for us to really capture everything we wanted to about these mashups. We really wanted to go in and perfect the stuff. So we recorded parts almost completely independent of each other, where on a typical recording we'll all be in the same room together, playing live."

Playing the "Zonkey" mash-ups live, however, is a whole other matter. "It's actually more challenging to play the mash-ups live," Cummins notes by phone from Grand Rapids. "Some of the tracks have so many harmonies, so many keyboard parts, nit's not something that can be accurately recreated live. We're just trying our best up there to make it sound good."

Because it covers so many well-known songs and bands, "Zonkey" has broadened Umphrey's audience -- kind of. "We've heard from more Umphrey's fans than ever before that they've been able to convert a lot of people who really didn't get Umphrey's McGee before," Cummins says. "That may be a temporary conversion, though. They hear ('Zonkey') and think, 'Oh, this is cool,' then they come to a show and they're like, 'I still don't get it.' That's how it is. There are always going to be people who, for whatever reasons, it's just a little too angular for them or strange for them. But that's who we are, and we're comfortable with that."

Umphrey's will be spending much of the year playing live, as usual, and Cummins says there's a real focus on playing multiple nights in the same venue. "WE're trying to do more two-, three-night stands in places so our fans can come and really jsut relax and enjoy themselves a little bit more, and we can play a lot of different stuff," he says. "It's a real statement to our fan base and to people who have stuck with us all this time that we can go in and rock and throw down for a while weekend together."

Umphrey's returned to the studio in November to start working on a new album, this time of original music. "We've got a little over 20 different songs started," Cummins reports. "It's really a wide variety of stuff, probably what you've come to expect from Umphrey's McGee. There's some tunes that are funkier on there, some stuff that's more progressive, some almost acoustic-type things we did. It's all across the spectrum. These are a lot of things we've been writing over the past two, three years, or even more." The group plans to continue recording throughout the year with no release date yet in mind.

Umphrey's McGee

Friday and Saturday, Feb. 3-4. Doors open 7 p.m.

The Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave.

Tickets are $22-$78 per night, $40 for a two-night ticket.

Call 313-961-5451 or visit thefillmoredetroit.com.

Note: Jake Cinninger and Joel Cummins from Umphrey's McGee will join Earphonic for a late-night after-party at 11:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, at El Club, 4114 Vernor Highway, Detroit. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day of show. Visit elclubdetroit.com.

Web Site: www.thefillmoredetroit.com

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