Umphrey's McGee: The London Session

The Americans’ Abbey Road session – anything but pedestrian.

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While gigging in London last summer, Chicago-based ‘improg’ sextet Umphrey’s McGee were thrilled to score 12 hours at Abbey Road.

It’s a mark of their insane skill that the resultant bashed-out-in-a-day-with-jetlag album – previously unrecorded songs and new arrangements of fan favourites – sounds more together than what most bands slave over. Only the vocals were later completed Stateside; the rest, even the last four tracks which were raced through in one take, showcases a ludicrously gifted group. As a growing army of fans has noted since the turn of the century, theirs is a modern, genre-hopping identity. Though their live jams are their strongest suit, they can toss out a crafted pop song, as here, on cue. It’s a relatively restrained album for them, closer to Supertramp and 10CC than their usual transcendent 20-minute Grateful-Dead-embrace-dance-music epics. At first it’s as if they’re in awe of what they call The Beatles’ “house”. Yet then the shackles come off, the uplifting instrumental Glory revels in incredible shredding guitars from Jake Cinninger. Finally, they foolhardily attempt The Beatles’ I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – and knock it out of the park.

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.