String Cheese Incident- Tacoma, WA, Portland, OR, Eugene, OR- 10/18-21
Can a venue make all the difference? Yes indeed, my friends. I never thought I’d be comparing a world class venue with a fieldhouse, but that’s just what happened when I traveled to see String Cheese Incident, now in progress on its Fall tour,. Oh how we Westcoasters were ready for some Cheese, we hadn’t really gotten our fair market share for quite some time.
I was good and ready to head to Tacoma, WA from Portland-that’s what’s great about Oregon, you can get to other states in a reasonable amount of time. I skipped out of work around 2 p.m. and grabbed a ride up Interstate 5, only about a 2 hour drive, sans traffic. I was so excited to see the Cheese, my last show was at Red Rocks this summer. I forgot to mention I “travel” to see the band when time and money appears. Blame it on a musically addicted boyfriend, you know the kind who has about 10,000 DATs laying around the house. I saw my first String Cheese show in December 1999, and although it took me several shows to “get it” as they say, I’ve been coming back for more ever since.
For those of you not acquainted with this gang, the band consists of Billy Nershi electric acoustic guitar and vocals, Michael Kang, electric mandolin, violin and vocals, Kyle Hollingsworth, keyboards and vocals, Keith Moseley, bass guitar and vocals and last but not least, Michael Travis, drummer extraordinaire, sometimes called “the starship commander.”
Tacoma is, well Tacoma. After a short watering hole visit and cold lot scene, we headed inside. I spent the first set three rows back on Kyle’s side, and having never been up so close, it was a real treat. The first set was high energy, with a cover tune, some bluegrass, and a few oldies but goodies. The second set was more memorable, as I moved to the back and let the melodies of “Lands End,” and “Shakin the Tree,” take me away. I will say that the venue was tiny, lacking in “facilities” and smoky because of the nonexistence of something called “ventilation.” People were literally gasping for air by the end -it was tough. Needless to say, there were no “beverages” for sale and the water troughs were hand filled not so frequently. Tacoma was a hot show (literally), with good setlists and a good crowd, minus the freshman.
Portland proved to be much better, in my humble opinion. The show was at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus. Organized entry, a tame lot scene, and still no libations at the show (what is it with these Catholic Universities?) but there was actually room to move and groove. Songs like “Rhum & Zouc,” a Jean Luc Ponty instrumental they’ve been playing for a while, along with “Howard”, “Dudley’s Kitchen” proved to be crowd pleasers. There were some “issues” with getting on the floor and the wristband game, it appeared that it was first come, first serve, even if you had bought a floor ticket rather than a balcony ticket several months ago when the tickets went on sale. Let me tell you, when tour tickets go on sale at 10 EST, computers are crashing all over the USA and people want what they paid for.
I’d say it’s fair to assume people like to hear some of their favorite songs when the go see a live show. It’s such a different experience to see SCI live than hearing them on that cd your friend burned for you and mailed from half way across the country. The trading and taping community is huge and that’s how the music gets spread, but there’s nothing like seeing what you are hearing. That’s how one “gets it”- as I mentioned earlier, it’s like an epiphany, if you will.
We went from good in Tacoma, to Better in Portland, and on to the Best- Eugene! It’s a short drive from Portland, and what else would you do on a Monday night? If you have never been to the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, let me describe it for you. This place is somewhat unbelievable, with its clean, airy spaces, beautifully carpeted floors and smoke free atmosphere. The ceilings in the lobby are high and the artwork and wall dr is fabulous. Everything is sparkling, and I think people respect that this place needs to be treated with love and care. Security was friendly, drinks were very reasonably priced, and bars and bathrooms were accessible.
Once inside is where the magic really begins. The Hult is set up with three levels forming a U around the stage. The balcony being the highest, a mezzanine level in the middle, and then the Orchestra being the bottom floor. The space inside is small but feels “big”, and all seating is reserved. No matter where one sits, the sound and view are phenomenal. I easily found my seat, right by the tapers section and the soundboard. The band started immediately with “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” a bluegrass get-going fun-time song. The crowd was just gearing up when I heard the first notes of “Rollover”, and the tone was set- people were twirling, dancing and getting into it. I don’t know about you, but if you are a cheese fan, you just love a good Rollover. Billy then sang “Barstool”, clear as a bell and amazing. The lyrics in this song are quite meaningful, if you take a real listen, similar to other songs that have something we can relate to. Next came “Don’t Say”, which I always thought was called “She Don’t Say,” but oh well, I enjoyed it just the same-this song always takes on a different version every time.
I’m fast-forwarding to the second set, after a short sweet set break, where the boys opened with “Superstition,” a classic. The crowd was grooving and ready for “Smile”
an, ultimate feel good song. What followed was the familiar “Sweet Melinda” and a ripping Yo Se, the only tune of real Latin influence of the evening. Most shows combine a spattering of bluegrass, drawn out space jams, instrumentals, some Celtic tunes, covers and those lovely feel good lyrical tunes I was describing earlier. The bands ability to switch from bright neon and roaring energy songs to those pay attention meaningful, slow songs is one of their strongest assets. Sometimes the segues are the best parts, as I said before, they keep you guessing what’s coming next.
Towards the end of the show, the mood tuned down and then it was all Keith with “Emma’s Dream”, a song I find “transical”, a word I am now coining. I absolutely love this song, it’s slow and fairly new, but it really has the power to captivate. People were swaying and mesmerized, and the sound was amazing. Next came a couple of new songs, a Kang tune called “Desert Dawn” and a “ Just Passing Through”, written by John Perry Barlow.
The triple encore came up last..with “Way Back Home” (Kyle!) to rap up a full, tight, super sounding great Incident. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this show. I’d say of my little three day run, Eugene was it. The venue does make a difference- The Hult would have to be my favorite indoor venue to see a show hand down, thus being that I am 30, okay, almost 32, and have quite a few under my belt. Good acoustics and a comfortable scene can make all the difference. I was sad to leave, a feeling that often comes over me at the end of a show.It’s over, are you sure? Perhaps I was sad about making the hour and something drive back to Portland to face a day of work.