Last Saturday was a full-on mind and body exercise, complete with bike-riding, dancing, photography, networking, and hours and hours of wonderful music. The climax of the day was definitely the dual-bill featuring a couple of leaders in the independent music world. STS9 and Umphrey’s McGee are as DIY as bands come, and that is independent music — when a large proportion of the band is vertically integrated. These bands are leading the industry in this sense, in addition to the fact that they both make incredible music live as well as in the studio.
STS9 and UM did not disappoint; both bands dropped knockout, lights-out shows. STS9 focused heavily on newer material that sounded awesome live, and I am really happy I got a chance to get a taste. If you haven’t noticed, they are my favorite band; their music is a perfect balance of my favorite genres. Umphrey’s kills it every time I see them but I need to do so sparingly (otherwise it gets predictable). I didn’t make it to STS9’s late night show — something I’ve regretted all week — but we may be getting some photos up from a friend who attended. Read on for more of everything.
After checking out an afternoon of indie music (as in the genre) at Pitchfork, I rode my bike over to Charter One Pavilion to be greeted by the most ridiculous will-call line I have ever seen. I made the executive decision to forgo the line, and luckily the staff at the venue was nicer than they were organized. A ticket was in my hand moments later but it lacked a photo pass — a deal killer because I had a camera on my person.
I just so happened to be standing near by Umphrey’s manager, Vince Iwinski, and upon hearing my situation he offered to help out. He met me backstage and hooked up a photo pass. All I can say is what a generous act — he was clearly busy but took time to help out a stranger with the power of promotion. I returned the favor by handing my ticket, now unnecessary, to a random kid walking by free of charge. Kid — wherever you are — I hope you enjoyed your miracle.
I rushed into the photo pit just as STS9 was transitioning from “Empires” to “The New Soma.” I heard most of “Empires” from backstage and the song is marked by some really nice changes on top of that flowing backbone. I dig how these songs are back to back on the album and they played it the same way live; it shows some of the thought that went into Peaceblaster. “The New Soma” pulls in some of STS9’s impeccable on-stage production and the bridge really hits hard.
This being my first show since the new album, its hard to put any of the new songs into perspective. But the songs transitioned well to the live setting. After a strong “Arigato,” they lit up the night with one of my favorites from the new album, “Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist.” Murph nearly opened my chest with the fuzzed out synth. Big and dark, this song is gonna become a favorite.
A highlight of the night was the space that the band explored within “Shock Doctrine,” the first single from the album. When the song reaches the section where Phipps is chopping at the keys it really gets running only to abruptly shift into a ambient IDM section. The change was flawless. “Rent” came up next and I feel that this song has become a bit tired. The last two times I’ve heard it played it was flat and it almost sounds like a bad spy movie theme song. I say retire it.
STS9 couldn’t have ended their set any better, taking “Peaceblaster ’68” into “Peaceblaster ’08.” STS9 is the only non-DJ act I’ve ever heard pan the sound during a concert and its use during the transition it was an amazing touch. Once again the live electronica champions put together an incredible show. I wish they had been the headliner because of their in-a-class-of-its-own light show, but Chicago is Umphrey’s town and they definitely played that way.
In between sets were two DJ’s, Kap10 Harris and DJ Rootz, who spun some pretty hyped mash-ups. Their “Lights and Music” remix was super solid and got me all fired up for seeing Cut Copy the next day, which I never did. These two definitely kept the crowd moving until the hometown boys took the stage.
Like I said before, I only see Umphrey’s every year or two but they are always impeccably tight, which always makes for a great show. The “All In Time > Wappy Sprayberry > All In Time” opening was fantastic, hitting on all of Umphrey’s strongest pieces. A section of the song even included a Pink Floyd tease that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
For me, Umphrey’s really took off when Kris Myers came to the band; he opens up the rest to explore because he fills so much space and is always on time. He really killed it during “Mulche’s Odyssey” — one of my favorites — and let Jake and Brendan really go nuts with odd measures and their filthy syncopation.
I really wasn’t familiar with the last few songs, one of which was new for everyone. But I was totally into everything after “Mulche’s Odyssey” so it didn’t matter. For me Umphrey’s is a once-in-a-while band. If I do see them sparingly I’m always pleased with the show they put on, as was the case with last Saturday. Though I am happy to have seen both of these bands in a pavilion, I can’t wait to see two full raging sets out of both of these bands in as small a venue as possible.
Empires > The New Soma, Arigato, Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist, Beyond Right Now, Kamuy, Shock Doctrine, Rent, Oh Little Brain, Peaceblaster ’68 > Peaceblaster ’08
All In Time > Wappy Sprayberry > All In Time, Search 4, Tribute to the Spinal Shaft > Hajimemashite > Mulche’s Odyssey, Waist Down, Hurt Bird Bath
Check out the rest of the photos on LMB’s Flickr page.