Watch Mike Portnoy join Umphrey's McGee onstage in Chicago for covers of Spinal Tap's Big Bottom and Rush's YYZ

Umphrey's McGhee onstage in Chicago
(Image credit: shinepigeon)

To round off a year in which they celebrated their 25th anniversary, jam band Umphrey’s McGee played a three-date residency at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago on the last three nights of December. With regular drummer Kris Myers recuperating from a shoulder injury and unable to perform at all three shows, the band took the opportunity to invite some guest musicians onstage.

The fill-in drummers included Rory Dolan from power trio lespecial and Ben Atkind, who recently left jam band Goose after nine years, but the biggest name to join the party was Mike Portnoy, whose return to Dream Theater was announced in October. 

Portnoy's contribution to the set on December 29 included covers of Pink Floyd's In The Flesh and Another Brick In The Wall, The Beatles' You Never Give Me Your Money, and Abacab by Genesis, but perhaps the unlikeliest turn of events took place as the band returned for their encore. 

First up was a cover of Spinal Tap's Big Bottom – a song that famously features three "lead basses", with Portnoy out front on a four string of his own – before regular service was resumed with a cover of the classic Rush instrumental YYZ. Footage of both songs can be watched below.    

"What an absolutely amazing experience playing with Umphrey's McGee last night!", Portnoy posted on Facebook. "They are the coolest guys and supreme musicians of the highest order! Thanks to Brendon, Jake, Joel, Ryan, Andy and Kris, the crew and their great fans for letting me play in their playground for a night… it was an incredibly inspiring evening of music."

No live dates from the freshly reconfigured Dream Theater have been announced, although there are other opportunities to see Portnoy perform live. This Saturday he'll be joining Rush tribute band YYNOT onstage at the Bubba Bash, a charity event at the Keswick Theater in Glendale, PA, held to raise money to benefit the nonprofit Cedars Sinai teaching hospital in Los Angeles. The event is being held in memory of Neil Peart, and tickets are still available

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.