Since forming on the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, a little more than 16 years ago, Umphrey’s McGee—guitarist/vocalists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, keyboardist/vocalist Joel Cummins, bassist Ryan Stasik, drummer/ vocalist Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag—has gone on to perform over 100 concerts annually, releasing seven studio albums and selling more than 3.3 million tracks online. With their eighth studio album, Similar Skin, and first for their own indie label, Nothing Too Fancy (N2F) Music, the group has tackled the studio with the same intensity and focus as they do their fabled live shows, with an eye towards maintaining the very special relationship with their loyal fan base.
This time around, the band’s varied musical touchstones range from the melodicism of Police, U2, the Beatles and Nirvana, the symphonic prog of Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Yes and Genesis to the heavy metal thunder of Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Soundgarden and Pantera. Produced by Umphrey’s McGee in conjunction with Manny Sanchez and Greg Magers, Similar Skin was conceived as “a coherent vision,” featuring plenty of dynamics and contrast, featuring many of the songs honed from their live repertoire. In a shrinking music business, Umphrey’s McGee have found a way to connect to their audience on a grassroots, one-to-one level—albeit enhanced with high-end technology—that keeps them coming back for more. The best example is the group’s fabled “Headphones and Snowcones” live soundboard mix delivered directly to followers in their homes, as well as making past shows available online. Similar Skin is ultimately a paean to that complementary relationship between band and audience that has marked its impressive career.