Last night brought Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger of Umphrey’s McGee to Chicago’s Park West for a night dubbed “Brendan and Jake’s 15th Annual Holiday Show.” The sold-out show brings both guitarists together for an intimate, stripped down evening that benefits a local Chicago charitable organization. The show had it all for which the annual tradition has become well known-UM classics, covers, varied instruments, some strong references to Star Wars, and brief cameos from the Umph mothers. It was a great way to help raise money for a good cause.
All proceeds went to the People’s Music School of Chicago, the only non-profit and tuition free music academy in the country. One teenage student relayed a heart-tugging story of how her parents camped out on the sidewalk for three days and nights just to wait in line to have a chance to enroll in the program. Brendan and Jake did their part to help young aspiring musicians such as her. But before they took to the stage, Umphrey’s keyboardist Joel Cummins did a solo set. He made sure to squeeze in as much as possible during his set. His version of Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” was phenomenal. He played a very appropriate “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” from The Nutcracker, only to mention his extreme disdain for being taken to the play by his parents year after year as a child. He also played “Final Word” and it was unique hearing his vocals on the track as opposed to Bayliss. One of the more comical moments of his set when he called his mom on stage, and he made sure to have the whole crowd give her a salutation.
After his set, Brendan and Jake quickly took the stage. They began with a great version of “Divisions,” which despite what many seasoned Umphreaks in the front claimed, had a “Yoga Pants” sandwiched inside and not “In the Kitchen.” Other acoustic staples followed, like “Nemo,” “Sweetness,” and “Bad Poker.” Besides the music, their banter and quirkiness entertained the crowd. At one point they teased “The Imperial March” and threated to give spoilers on the new Star Wars Movie The Last Jedi, which the crowd responded with a big, “NOOO!!!” The nerds on stage didn’t care though, as earlier they had been presented with Christmas gifts that were none other than more Star Wars toys to put on their amplifiers.
Throughout the set, guests frequented the stage as diligently as Jake’s fingers moved along the frets. Pedal steel guitarist Mike Rackey joined for a couple songs, as well as trumpet master Jennifer Hartswick. Her vocals on “Bullhead City” were nailed and the song sounded like the crisp version from the studio album. Of course Joel added his touch on the piano, and percussionists Andy Farag and Kris Myers laid down the beat for many songs, including the former spending quite a long time behind the drumkit. In fact, the only Umphrey’s member who didn’t play was Ryan Stasik. He was sorely missed!
Besides the guests rotating in and out, the instruments which the musicians used also didn’t stay too long in their hands before being replaced. Bayliss rocked the mandolin and the bass, including playing the latter on a great rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “They Love Each Other.” It was one of the highlights of the night. The other superlative moment of the show was when Bayliss got on the piano and Jake played the drums. Despite the physical distance between the two- they couldn’t have been any further from each other on the stage- their chemistry was out of this world on “Push and Pull” and Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home.” Jake played the drums with a purpose, and Bayliss’ piano solo on the Supertramp song was…. interesting. With all the talented guests that took to the stage over the course of the night, it was a ton of fun to see just those two on stage together for that segment.
The annual event was a blast, with those who have been to all of them to those attending for the first time leaving very satisfied. The intimacy in the small venue is something that can’t be found at Umphrey’s shows and seeing these two talented guitarists on stage was a treat. Ultimately, they did a great job of raising a lot of money for a very worthy cause.
SETLIST: Brendan & Jake Holiday Special | Park West | Chicago, IL | 12/15/17
Divisions -> Yoga Pants -> Divisions, Nemo -> Sweetness-> Nemo, Bad Poker, You and You Alone, Kimble, Gone For Good, Susannah, They Love Each Other, Push & Pull, Take the Long Way Home, Angel, Bullhead City, Let Me Roll It
E: Running on Empty
[Thanks to Daniel Ojeda for the review and photo gallery]