The jam-band world is too large to be classified as a niche, but within its culture there are niches and pigeonholes, and Umphrey’s McGee fills one of them.
A sextet from Chicago via South Bend, Ind., Umphrey’s draws its polyphonic sound from a trove of genres: fusion jazz, progressive rock, hard rock, funk, folk, blues and occasionally reggae. Saturday night, the band drew a crowd of more than 1,200 to Crossroads KC and spent more than three hours (minus a 30-minute intermission) unleashing a barrage of styles, some colliding with one another at times.
Much of the show was dedicated to prolonged instrumental forays, especially during the second set. But this band can write tight and tidy songs, too, like “No Diablo,” a fusion of jazz, rock and pop that followed the opening instrumental, “Professor Wormbog,” and “Roulette,” a jazz-meets-rock anthem that changes tempos and time signatures throughout.
The band — singer/guitarist Brendan Bayliss, bassist Ryan Stasik, guitarist Jake Cinninger, keyboardist Joel Cummins, drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag — was impressively precise for the entire show.
The crowd up front immersed itself in the music all night, waving arms and hands, bobbing, bouncing and dancing and absorbing the full effects of a dazzling light show. Gusts of fog were unleashed several times as well.
Back beyond the soundboard, the mood was more Zen: There were several hula-hoopsters and a couple of fire jugglers. The rest of the crowd in back lounged at picnic tables or in the mulch, submitting to the grooves while chatting with friends.
But there were plenty of diehards in the place. Before “All in Time,” Bayliss acknowledged one who had taped one of the band’s earliest shows back in 1998 and was present Saturday night with his children. He was no doubt among those who plunged into “Kimble,” a track from 1998 that opens with a sweet, jaunty Southern rock vibe (think “Ramblin’ Man”) then erupts into an orgy of colliding crescendos before settling back into its opening groove.
That vibe was destroyed by the one-two punch of “Der Bluten Kat” and “Walletsworth,” which turned into an unhinged odyssey into progressive rock and metal and a few other genres — a suite of music that lasted more than 20 minutes.
After that, they took a break and returned with “Alex’s House,” a mix of pop-jazz and prog-rock that aroused a hearty sing-along.
For much of the rest of this set, songs were swollen with instrumentals, including the cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” and “Push the Pig,” a fusion of metal, funk and rap that vaguely recalled the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
To honor the midnight noise ordinance curfew, they kept the encore relatively short: two songs in 15 minutes. The finale was a cover of Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend Is Better.” That one, too, was stretched into a 10-minute jam that abandoned its original dynamics and groove before returning for a steady but rousing landing. That was the theme most of the night: take the music and the crowd into fresh, unexplored orbits. Or pigeonholes.
Processor Wormbog; Roulette; No Diablo; All in Time; Kimble; Der Bluten Kat/Walletsworth. Intermission. Alex’s House; Nothing Too Fancy; 1348; Waiting Room; 2x2; Push the Pig; Bridgeless. Encore: Glory; Girlfriend Is Better.