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Umphrey’s McGee ‘It’s Not Us’ Tour

by Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • in
  • May 2018
  • Wide Angle
• Created: May 14, 2018

Umphrey’s McGee are out on tour in support of their 11th studio release, It’s Not Us, which came out in January. Playing two sets, the bands varying shows night to night combine everything from rock, jazz, blues, bluegrass, and many other musical styles, as well as throwing in covers of artists that have influenced the band over the years. We spoke with Jefferson Waful who has been the bands lighting designer and director since 2008.

Waful’s background is video editing so his lighting style has definitely been influenced by his editing and vice versa. “I used to produce music videos as a kid and learned early on that slow motion is a very powerful tool when juxtaposed with a moving piece of music. The really slow moving lights during a triumphant music moment is the same concept to me.

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings. MAC Quantum washes and Claypaky B-Eyes add versatality to Jefferson’s rig.

‡‡         A Symmetric Rig

“I’d say my style is intentionally simple so I can accent the complexities of the band’s music without detracting from it,” Waful continues. “For example, if the band is playing in an odd meter, the average person may not realize it or know how to count it, but if I highlight each bar with red and blue on the downbeat, hopefully on a subconscious level it may make more sense to someone who is trying to figure out how to dance in 9/8. I’m also super OCD about having all of our fixtures evenly spaced and perfectly symmetrical so our positions are as close to geometric shapes as possible.”

Waful says he is a big fan of the Martin MAC III Profile due to its wide lens, which allows for very distinct and vibrant split colors on the color wheel. “We’ve been using MAC III’s as the centerpiece of the rig since 2009. We also use Vipers, which are solid, but for some reason they didn’t include yellow on the color wheel. They dropped some weight from the fixture, but decided yellow was out for my beloved split colors.” He still loves the Vipers for their versatility. This is also the first year the band used the MAC Quantum as a downstage wash fixture. “I love the brightness compared to Auras which we used for years.”

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings. Multi-colored looks are a staple of this show.

The Claypaky B-Eye K20 is new to their show this year. “We debuted it on our NYE run in Denver, which also included the first time we’ve rented lasers since I started working with the band. The B-Eyes were a lot more complicated to program than I had realized and in retrospect it was probably too much to introduce both the lasers and B-Eyes at the same shows with limited programming time.”

The lasers were a special treat just for the NYE run, so they’re not touring with them now, but the B-Eyes made the cut and now Waful is having more time to really dig in and explore the nuances of the fixture. “I’ve still only scratched the surface as the possibilities are seemingly endless. I will say that they add an entire new element to the show that can be both organic and very digital-looking. As much as I love them, I am still experimenting with the best way to run them on the fly. A lot of the attributes are not in my show file so cloning will only do so much. It’s a whole new world of possibilities.”

Waful says he’d love to add another beam fixture to the show. They’ve toured with mostly Claypaky Sharpys over the last several years as well as the Martin MAC Axioms for one tour. “We are limited by truck space, so I had to trade in the Sharpys to make room for the B-Eyes. For larger shows, we bring in extra fixtures and the Sharpys add another texture to the show. I read up on all the new products online, and I’ve attended LDI once to see demos and such. I travel so often it’s difficult to find time to fly off to Vegas.”

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings. Trippy textures light the backdrop.

‡‡         Unique Shows and Looks

There is no timecode in Umphrey’s McGee shows. The band plays each song differently each time. The composed sections are typically consistent, but tempos begin to shift during the improvisation, so Waful is just following along with the band as if he was playing an instrument. “I rarely program specific sections of songs because the repertoire is so vast that a given song might only be played once in six months. If the band plays a cover with an iconic light show such as Pink Floyd, Radiohead or NIN — where the light show becomes part of the song — I will try to program cues as a nod to the original LD. The song we debuted the lasers during was “Comfortably Numb,” and we spent hours programming every cue as a homage to Pink Floyd LD Marc Brickman. I know the band is going to play the song almost note-for-note like the original version, so it is a worthwhile time commitment. When it’s their own material however, all bets are off, and I’ve found punting is my best chance of keeping up.”

The band has been working with lighting company Ecto Productions for several years since they became a vendor. Prior to that, they knew the team from various other Chicago vendors, and when they decided to create their own new company, Umphrey’s McGee were one of their first clients. “We use them for both audio and lighting and they take really great care of us.”

UMPHREY’S McGEE © Steve Jennings. One of many looks cued without timecode.

Waful say’s he’s lucky and grateful to work for a band and organization that gives him so much creative control. “Our drummer has one song during which he asks that I black out the stage during the intro. Our lead singer also made a request for a couple of cues in one song. Other than that, as long as the band members can see each other and our monitor engineer can see the band, I can pretty much do whatever I feel in the moment. No show is ever the same so it’s really three hours of improvisation each night and that keeps things fresh for me. Of course, with improv comes great risk and reward. Some nights you guess right and some nights you guess wrong, but that is way more interesting to me than hitting “go” to the same songs each night.”

Umphrey’s McGee It’s Not Us Tour 2018

Crew

Lighting Designer/Director: Jefferson Waful

Lighting/Audio Co: Ecto Productions

Lighting Crew Chief: Aaron “Louie” Meyette

Tour Manager: Bobby Haight

Production Manager: Bob Ston

Stage Manager: Robbie Williams

Gear

1       grandMA2 full lighting console

12     Martin MAC III Profiles

6       Martin MAC Viper Profiles

10     Martin MAC Quantum Washes

6       Claypaky B-Eye K20’s

5       Base hazers

 

More Umphrey’s McGee ‘It’s Not Us’ Tour photos by Steve Jennings:

 

 

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