FAMILY ALBUM Backstory Part 5: Upping The Ante
Updated: Aug 5, 2022
In 2011, during the crowdfunding campaign to release my Light The Dark album on vinyl, we brought the "Evening With The Ullmans" show back to the Musica stage—twice. For the first outing, I joined Brian on bass for his set, and we closed out mine with an All-Ullman Band rendition of "The Clear Lake Medley" from The Buddy Holly Story with us all wearing matching Buddy Holly glasses. This was a real full-circle kind of moment for me, as these were the first songs Dad helped me learn as a kid; and instead of him taking the lead on "That'll Be The Day," it was Brian.
Every iteration of these family affairs upped the ante. In the outro of the Buddy Holly medley, I threw in a few phrases of U2's "Desire" that fit the same Bo Diddley beat of "Not Fade Away." This planted the seed for a four-song U2 set we'd harvest at the second show later that fall. During that show, as was becoming customary, I invited members of my family to join me towards the end of my stage time. We started by playing an all-ukulele version of "Déjà vu," perhaps my best-known song, and one I like to change up each time I perform it by singing the lyrics of different pop songs over the end that fit the same melody as the guitar chords—everything from Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and Ani DiFranco's "Both Hands," to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," and even Michael Jackson's "Beat It" fit the framework. As I began singing the words to "With Or Without You," the other Ullman Boys came out of the audience and took to their instruments alongside me to finish out the song. From there, we transitioned to a full-on U2 cover band playing "Where The Streets Have No Name," "New Year's Day," and "Vertigo." We also amped up the reunion factor for that show by resuscitating Brian's middle school band Enormity for the night. For their first set in over 13 years, Brian, Nate, Mike, and Matt rocked a medley of their original songs, as well as some Muse, Tonic, Foo Fighters... And they brought the house down—just as they used to in the 90's—with Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train."
The Ullman Boys, 2011 (Left to right: Brian, David, Jim, and Jack Ullman) Photo: Kyle Collins
I moved to Minnesota eight months later; and when it came time to tour for Light The Dark, we brought the reunion bands back together for the Ohio stop. This time we got the house engineer Jim Bethel to record a feed from the soundboard and ultimately released a condensed version of all three see sets (The Bushmen, my solo stuff, and Enormity) as An Evening With The Ullmans: Live @ Musica. It was a night full of many memorable collaborations. The Bushmen played with their original bassist, Ronnie Osburn, which was a first for these reunion gigs. I'm extra glad to have captured that, as well as Dad's energized, John-Fogerty-infused vocal performance of CCR's "Green River." Uncle Jack surprised me by singing lead on a few songs from behind his drum kit. I didn't realize he'd been doing that! And though my living some 760 miles away precluded the requisite rehearsal time necessary for an All-Ullman set, Brian and I joined The Bushmen for their last song, an encore of our "Where The Streets Have No Name" cover with Larry Griffin spicing things up on pedal steel guitar. Brian helped me out with a couple of songs during my set, and I was also joined by my friends Zach and cellist Tara Hanish to play our respective duets from the Light The Dark album. Enormity brought the rock and the roll with kick-ass selections by Foo Fighters, Tool, Big Wreck, Black Country Communion, and Pearl Jam's "Even Flow"—with Yours Truly on vocals. I debuted a new song that night called "French New Year" which lead to a collaboration with Brian called The Furious Light. To say Brian produced that album is an understatement. He played almost all of the instruments and built up the robust full-band sound I'd always wanted. In August of 2015, we teamed up with our friends Midland Uprising for a short run of rock shows in NYC, Chicago, Akron, and St. Paul.