The String Cheese Incident, Fuji Rock, Niigata, Japan, 7/28-29
When Billy Nershi, like all of the Western performers at Fuji Rock Festival, attempted to practice his Japanese, my friend translated the most sense I’d heard all night. “Fuji Rock is cool. Fuji Rock is cool because you are cool.” And while watching so many stoked Japanese getting down to the String Cheese Incident had been a delightful and entertaining experience, the 2-and-a-little Cheese shows I’d seen in the Japanese Alps that weekend had, at times, achieved lift-off.
As my first live music exposure since traveling overland from Jam in the Dam back in March (besides the occasional Mongolian throat-singing and Russian classic-rock cover band), I was just bursting for the SCI dance party. And I was not disappointed.
The Japanese Cheese launched on Friday morning with a one-set performance at the Green Stage, Fuji’s main venue. The solid set was anchored by an energetic “Round the Wheel,” a smooth “MLT,” and the expected “Rollover” closer. Another appearance of Pink Floyd’s famed flying pig (having been purchased by the band some time ago), was supplemented with a Simpsons clip over the projectile in which Homer accidentally sets off Peter Frampton’s inflatable pig. The SCI pig was supposed be released during the “Another Brick in the Wall” jam (which connected “Close Your Eyes” with “Rollover”), but actually came out a couple songs earlier. Keith Moseley later recounted the goof-up as decidedly Spinal Tap-esque.
An old Japanese deadhead (yes, they have these) tipped me off to the unannounced acoustic mini-set taking place that afternoon at the British Music Lounge. With the lights obviously blinding Michael Travis and Moseley, the band rolled through a smooth “High on a Mountain Top” (with the apt lyrical replacement, “High on Fuji Rock”). I had a good laugh as an over-helpful stagehand kept trying to adjust Nershi’s mic stand (“I got it, I got it!” Billy insisting), and the “Mouna Bowa” closer had me tumbling like Hakusai’s Great Wave.
Saturday night brought the real heat. With a three-hour timeslot (which the band would easily surpass), the rain clearing to reveal a misty mountain Japanese dream, and the Field of Heaven surrounding, we knew we were in for something. The Field of Heaven stage is a venue generally agreed as comparable to Red Rock or the Gorge, if not for epic scenery, than for pure energetic elegance. Fittingly, we were treated to huge sets of deep trance, bouncing bluegrass, and a little reggae to boot. Like most things in Japan, including the toilets (which have more buttons than a PS2 controller) and the cell phones (which are now able to be swiped like debit cards), this show was definitely from the future. The “Desert Dawn” jam was brought back on a hoverboard, I’m sure of it, and the “Rivertrance” was simply extra-terrestrial. Kyle’s Mooged alien communications peaked during the “Chameleon” segue, and the encore was so short, so sweet, so true (we’re “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” of course, of course). Pine and cedar swayed in a gentle breeze, and as we floated in the Japanese evening, the reverberations of “Salt Creek” meandering through the blue-green Niigata valley, I could only sigh and think, Field of Heaven indeed