Umphrey’s McGee delivers a Walletsworth

The value proposition that musicians can present to their customers has shifted dramatically. Steely Dan tours (regularly!), Phish and Widespread Panic pamper the well-heeled with intimate concert packages at all-inclusive Mexican resorts. Def Leppard, Trace Adkins, Kenny Rogers, Smokey Robinson, Flo Rida, Huey Lewis, Weezer and gaggles of jam bands whisk fans away on performance cruises. And with the advent of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora (RIP Grooveshark) the ability to discover the new and discard the old music costs less than ever.

For the “improg” group Umphrey’s McGee, one value proposition they present to their fans has a name: Couch Tour.

Through the recently concluded Mid-Atlantic leg of their seemingly ongoing tour, I managed to catch three Umphrey’s McGee shows: one at DC’s EchoStage and two streamed live into my palatial estate’s primary living room.

UM keyboardist, Joel Cummins, said adding streaming to their live shows gives the band an easy way to engage fans who can’t attend. “Who wouldn’t want to experience the joy of having a live concert blasting through their home entertainment center?” he said. “By making the visual element of the stream an important component of it, people are able to bring not just the music but the full scope of the entire concert into their homes.”

Speaking of which, Echostage is a heckuva trip for most residents of DC, especially for a weeknight show set to start right after rush hour. It also offers attendees a vigorous, intimate, and mandatory security patdown, perhaps mainly to whet the appetite for forgetting the experience through booze. Given the poor sightlines the venue offers to short people like me, Echostage might consider putting more of the live show on the screens behind the bar instead of the incessant, distracting ads for shows that you aren’t currently trying to watch.

UM’s sound is unerringly precise, owing in part to the sharp drive provided by percussionist Andy Farag and drummer Kris Myers. On the whole, UM seem to make much more extensive use of effects and loops than I’m used to hearing from bands like Phish. In that sense, their sound feels much more like electronica. The beat ebbs and flows, but you’d be forgiven for believing that it never actually stops over the course of an energetic three-hour show.

I’m a sucker for (musical) teases, so teasing bits of Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” late in the second set was my biggest personal highlight.

UM also offers their fans a special upsell, studio headphones with receivers so you can walk throughout the venue as you listen to the live board mix of the show. It’s a fantastic bit of innovation that rewards audiophiles for coming to the live event.

Echostage also offers some built-in lighting walls that UM’s eminent lighting designer, Jefferson Waful, was able to reliably exploit. What did I lose by choosing my refrigerator over the bar and my couch over, well, doing calf raises all night to get a good view of the live event?

Couldn’t say, at least not with any precision. Watching from home was every bit as enjoyable, but for different reasons. Cheaper booze is one. Walking to one of my many, many bedrooms after the show is also a shorter trip.

UM’s partner in streaming Couch Tour is TourGigs, a concert tech firm that helps bands capture shows—or, in UM’s case, the entire tour—and deliver those shows live or on demand to fans anywhere.

Trey Allen, the company’s founder (and road manager for My Morning Jacket), calls himself a dedicated music fan with a special place in his heart for live, improvisational music.

“The vision behind TourGigs was one that was born in the jam band world,” he said from his home in Nashville. “You’ve got people who collect all of the audio of their favorite bands, their favorite jam bands. I was a massive Deadhead way back when and I had hundreds and hundreds of cassettes.”

If not for his work at delivering live shows to fans, either in person or streaming, he says he and many other TourGigs employees would likely be sitting in a “concert parking lot selling burritos.”

UM and TourGigs sold “TourPasses” to fans for $129.99 or individual shows for $12.99. For 15 shows, it could be an easy sell for a dedicated fan or a merely curious n00b.

Allen is cagey about what this kind of service, capturing and delivering live shows, presents as a revenue stream for bands.

“I feel like we are just in the beginnings of tapping into what some real income can be,” he said. “The income we see is from streaming the event itself, then possibly putting together an edited film that can be sold at concerts.”

Allen wouldn’t mention any given band’s revenue take from live streaming, allowing only that the music industry is still in the “Wild West” in terms of discovering streaming’s potential for touring bands to find value of multiplying (potentially) the revenues for any given show. Umphrey’s McGee, he said, has been instrumental in helping TourGigs develop its craft.

Allen admits that the model of capturing every show on a tour and distributing those shows live is a model that feels tailor-made for bands with enormous song lists. In other words, hungry and rising jam bands are uniquely positioned to take advantage of a new element of the live concert experience.

Fans can live stream the sold-out St. Patrick’s Day Umphrey’s McGee show at the Belly Up in Aspen, along with other future shows, via TourGigs.com.

PHOTOS: Keith Griner, courtesy of Umphrey’s McGee and TourGigs.com.

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