Umphrey's McGee

Umphrey's McGee is standing progressive rock on its head with its improvisational approach to music.

"Our live shows could lead in any direction," says keyboard player Joel Cummins. "There's an inherent excitement about now knowing where the music is going. It keeps things fresh for the band and for the fans."

Umphrey's alchemists of sound — Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger (guitars), Ryan Stasik (bass), Kris Myers (drums), Andy Farag (percussion) and Cummins — will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St.

The band is on the West Coast leg of its "Death by Stereo" tour.

"We call the new album 'Death by Stereo' because there are two different sides to the band," he says. "On one hand, there is heavier, progressive rock, and the other is funkier, dance-oriented music. We're simultaneously heading into the two musical directions."

While the album's studio versions of the new tunes are more like snapshots, Cummins says when the band performs live, it uses the songs as improvisational, jumping-off points for new arrangements or to string pieces of the music together.

The band draws from the creativity of progressive rock while keeping a 21st-century spin on its music, leaving lots of room for melodies.

"We're rooted in the '70s progressive rock mindset," Cummins says. "It's an important part of our identity, and we're big fans of Pink Floyd, Yes and King Crimson. We have yet to cover any Emerson, Lake and Palmer tunes, but it will happen."

It was Umphrey's McGee's Stew Art improvisational concerts that began to redefine live music.

"The idea was to let fans direct the music by texting their ideas to our sound man," Cummins says. "Someone would text 'pina colada,' and we'd play music with a reggae feel or an island sound. Another might text 'hurricane approaching,' and we'd come up with an intense, foreboding vibe."

Tickets for the Ashland show cost $20 in advance and are available at Music Coop in Ashland, Bad Ass Coffee and 619 Clothing in Medford, Listen Here in Grants Pass and or by calling 800-992-8499.

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