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Published: 2004/01/04
by Rachel Seeger

The String Cheese Incident, Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL- 12/31

The String Cheese Incident rung in the New Year with three sold out performances at Chicago's historic Auditorium Theater. This 114-year old National Historic Landmark was designed by the renowned architecture firm of Adler and Sullivan, with a young Frank Lloyd Wright taking the lead on the project that put his unique stamp on what is a truly incredible venue. Many bands played in this classy house until the early 1970's when rowdy Molly Hatchet fans trashed one of Chicago's true cultural treasures. Since then, the Auditorium Theater hosts mostly ballet and musical theater. About once a year, the management bends the rules and allows a lucky musical act to fill this acoustically perfect hall with light, sound and vibrant energy. This New Year's Eve, the String Cheese Incident rocked the Auditorium with a beautifully themed musical experience bridging the band's past with their present and future. The Colorado quintet has had a very full year supporting its latest studio release Untying the Not while taking on giant Ticketmaster in court over the right to sell tickets through its in-house agent.

The band kicked off their New Year's show with an acoustic set of bluegrass in a direct nod to the past, opening appropriately with the tune "Sittin' on Top of the World." Band members formed an intimate circle around drummer Michael Travis' stripped down snare kit and bongos in an arrangement that one would expect in a small club setting. Keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, who gave a stellar performance all evening long, was in fine form on accordion. The set highlighted Michael Kang's improvisational work on both mandolin and acoustic violin along with guitarist Bill Nershi's slide and virtuoso picking. Keith Mosely's bass lines and Travis' soulful drumming laid a fine backbeat for this lively set, and the band's harmonic vocals filled the vaulted hall with an Old Timey sound that had the audience kicking up their heels.
The crowd was treated to set break music ranging from the Beatles' "Let It Be" to Rose Royce's "Car Wash" in preparation for an explosion of light and sound. Green lasers bounced off the gilt walls of the Auditorium, and a large panoramic screen provided a backdrop of images invoking past to present. Imagery ranged Anasazi cliff dwellings to protests against the war in Iraq, and band members vocally encouraged the audience to register to vote. The set notably showcased how the String Cheese Incident can shift through a spectrum of genres ranging from calypso to funk. Highlights included an extended jam between "Tinder Box" and the melodic "Orion's Belt."
The six and a half hour musical experience culminated with an extended third set of music opening with "Sweet Home Chicago." With the band costumed as 17th century musicians, the Cheese wove back and forth between originals and covers including the Wiz's "Ease on Down the Road." The set closed with a dead on rendition of REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" that segued into the band's standard "Round the Wheel." The entire evening was peppered with New Year's surprises, including the humorous direction of the night's encore "Can't Stop Now" by Colorado bassist Tye North in conductor's tails and a wacky giant rainbow head. In all, this outstanding performance wrapped a ribbon on what has been a busy and productive year for the String Cheese Incident and left legions of fans begging for more.

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