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Summer sounds like Thursday at the Square

What does summer sound like? Birds chirping in the trees, a lawnmower running a few blocks away, the ice cream truck's tinkling trolling down the street, and every Thursday in Lafayette Square, intricate guitar riffs, electric keyboard progressions, and driving drum beats over the hum of an enthusiastic crowd.

May through September in Buffalo would not be the same without Thursday at the Square, held weekly in Lafayette Square from 5 to 9 p.m., free and open to all ages.

Last Thursday, Tea Leaf Green and Umphrey's McGee opened the 2007 season with a bang, a hum and a shout to a visibly ecstatic crowd.

Opener Tea Leaf Green warmed up a mostly under-30 crowd under a sweltering summer sun with energetic drum and guitar-driven songs, many of which went on for at least twice as long as the average radio tune. The crowd hopped and swayed along, one enthusiastic fan even banging out accompaniment on his own drum in the middle of the field that had not yet swelled to standing-room only proportions. Originally from San Francisco, the band is made up of Ben Chambers on bass, Josh Clark on guitar, Trevor Garrod on keyboard, and Scott Rager on drums. Their smooth, pump-it-up sound provided an exciting, driving prelude to the main event, belying smooth, jam influences such as the legendary Dave Matthews Band and OAR. Several spectators remarked that Tea Leaf Green was more engaging than Umphrey's, that their sound was easier to accept for the casual listener. Although it was difficult to disentangle their complicated sound at times, the overall jive went down easy, and made an appropriate background to the masses looking to unwind after a long, hot week.

By the time Umphrey's McGee took the stage, the square was shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone from 16-year-old girls in Hollister to 50-year-old hippies wearing nothing but corduroy pants, a bandana and backpiece tattoos, swaying and pumping, and occasionally crowd-surfing to the contagious beats. Following their latest releases, "Safety in Numbers" and the two-disk "The Bottom End" earlier this year, jam band Umphrey's McGee has developed a dedicated fan base, most of whom seemed to be packed into the square and ready to party this past Thursday.

Spectators pressed close to the stage to catch a glimpse of Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss on guitar, Ryan Stasik on bass, Kris Meyers on drums, Andy Farag on other percussion, and Joel Cummins on keyboards, playing a solid two hours of jam tunes that melded seamlessly into one another in an intoxicating mix of Caribbean, electronic, progressive rock, blues, and ambient noise.

Diehard Umphrey's fans devoured their complex style, an intricate tapestry of endless guitar-driven progressions and drum-based modulations, but the endless riffs and runs may have proven a bit monotonous for the casual listener. Their set was reminiscent of one of those frosted cupcakes from the grocery store: more icing than cake, but still a rush. After taking only one or two breaks the entire set, less dedicated fans began to filter out, perhaps feeling disengaged by a band whose close-knit fan base may have alienated less seasoned listeners.

Nevertheless, their easygoing energy and relaxed stage presence put the crowd at ease and made for a great background to the start of another season of a great Buffalo tradition: getting into the swing of what will hopefully be another sweltering, sunny summer in the square.

Lizz Schumer will be a junior at St. Bonaventure.

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