The String Cheese Incident, Marymoor Park, Redmond, WA 8/2
God forbid the day musicians cease to experiment and the fifth release in a band's discography sounds just like its freshman effort, the 143rd live show the same as the 472nd. Then again getting exactly what you expect from a band isn't always a bad thing either. The second evening of String Cheese Incident's two-night run at Marymoor Park in Redmond, WA left everyone feeling simply content not really enlightened, not really disappointed, just satisfactorily happy.
The biggest surprise was an appearance by Karl Denson's Tiny Universe trumpeter Chris Littlefield, which when you stop and think about it, really wasn't that surprising at all (Littlefield resides in the Northwest). Yet this lack of surprise was exactly what made the evening so pleasant in every respect. Shakedown Street was in business as vendors hawked their wares, young and old alike mingled barefoot in the lot, hula hoops were in ample supply and Cheese put out in predictable fashion. There's comfort in that.
With the sun shining through the evergreens (thanks to a 6:00 p.m. start time) SCI jumpstarted the evening with a little jazz, taking "Girl from Ipanema" into "Suntan." Some New Orleans-inspired B-3 from Kyle Hollingsworth and similar low-end from Keith Moseley built up "Got What He Wanted" before it tumbled into "Whiskey Before Breakfast." I always laugh a little when someone asks me what SCI sounds like. Jazz? Funk? Bluegrass? Within twenty minutes of its show, SCI had covered them all. As Michael Kang fueled the hoedown with his violin and Michael Travis twitched behind his kit at a ridiculously frenetic pace, Billy Nershi jumped up and down in a stationary spot and the crowd twisted in circles. "Whiskey" segued into the rock-based "Wake Up" and then SCI went near electronica with "Pack It Up" as Hollingsworth created invisible fireflies with his keys, a choir of blips and flashes which would have been further accentuated had the sun already dropped behind the Olympic Mountains. Jason Hann strapped on a washboard for "Wheel Hoss" and Hollingsworth surfed across his rig during "Black and White" as Travis crashed and collided behind him. The first set ended with a treatment of "Ramblin' Man," vocals courtesy Moseley, the audience collectively singing the chorus.
About fifteen minutes into the set break Chris Berry (whose Panjea also features Kang) appeared for an unannounced mini-performance. In the same vein as Xavier Rudd, Berry soothed and serenaded with his easy-going voice and instrument of choice, Zimbabwe's mbira (aka thumb piano).
SCI reemerged charged and rearing to go, catapulting into a huge jam with "Looking Glass" > "Pirates" replete with a "Slipknot!" tease. Nershi picked up a cowbell and the group took the tune into Star Trek territory. The sextet moved into an almost big band sound before grooving into a Samba beat, finishing with soaring, anthemic notes from Kang, inspiring one fan to exclaim, "that was on fire!" When "Born on the Wrong Planet" started the guy in front of me began doing "the sledgehammer" (it looks just as it sounds) and another fan piped up, "this is going to get ugly." A turn into "Valley of The Jig" found Nershi shredding on his electric, Travis settling on a techno beat and Kang picking up his violin for a Celtic DJ jam.
But the shining moment of the evening arrived when Littlefield joined SCI to help deliver the spoken-word saga of too much tequila otherwise known as "Jellyfish." Nershi supplied hand motions, the crowd sang the chorus of "my brain is just a jellyfish in the ocean of my head" and Littlefield blew. The acoustics at the amphitheatre were downright stunning, Littlefield's trumpet coming across so crystal clear, so sweet and mellow, it forced you to shut your eyes and stand in frozen enchantment.
As the night came to a close Nershi asked everyone to join in a universal howl for individuals worldwide to come "to their senses" and the band finished with "Restless Wind" sending the audience back into the lot gratified, another Cheese fix successfully administered.