String Cheese Incident, Red Rocks Amphitheatre- 8/12
There were no tears, no great sighs of pain or cries of “what do we do next?” Instead it was a celebration of now and not the unanswered future; a celebration of a chosen end, not a forced demise. All things must follow their course, and for String Cheese Incident, their journey came to a rocking end amidst balloons and beach balls, smoke and glow sticks, lasers and hula-hoops, and one giant squid. Oh yeah, and lots of music plucked from the many facets of the band’s history.
The show began with an eight-song bluegrass set which featured Michael Travis playing what looked like an old wine crate, and Jason Hann scrapping away on a washboard stolen from a Nederland Colorado laundromat (true story). This was a trip back to where it all began for SCI, playing bluegrass in the bars and lift lines of Crested Butte. From the opening tropical flavor of “Lester Had A Coconut” it was obvious that band wasn’t feeling the trepidation of knowing this was the beginning of their end. Instead the vibe was loose and easy as they knocked out acoustic covers of the Stanley Brothers’ “Long Journey Home,” The Beatles “I’ve Seen a Face,” Bill Monroe and Peter Rowan’s “Walls of Time,” Rowan’s classic “Panama Red,” Jack Bonus’ “Hobo Song,” and Sam Bush’s “Stingray.” This laid-back opener put a relaxed tone on the evening.
Returning from a set break, the band plugged in and kicked things into high gear immediately with “One Step Closer,” which flowed though a scorching jam and into “Rhum n’ Zouc.” The set continued through classic numbers that included “Sirens,” “Come As You Are,” and “Indian Creek,” and a brief visit by a hooping, barefooted Keller Williams for his “Best Feeling” and “Fuel for the Road.” “Way Back Home” closed out the set.
As the night progressed, one thing was clear: the differences in stylistic and musical direction that each member was heading, a factor in the band’s choice to call it quits and pursue individual endeavors. There were funkier moments favored by keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, country-edged rockers lead by bassist Keith Moseley, electronica tinged tunes from drummer Travis, mandolin and violin player Michael Kang’s space-rock excursions, and guitarist Bill Nershi’s acoustic-based roots rockers. Whatever the musical direction, however, there were plenty of exciting way out there jams and kick ass instrumental moments. These guys have come a long way from the scraggly band of ski bums that began before Moseley could even really play bass. Now he’s got the bottom end nailed, and the overall musical interplay, at least on this final bow-out, was dead ontighter than ever.
That aside, Set three eased in with “Restless Wind” before pumping up the volume with the techno-infused beat of Hollingsworth’s “Piece of Mine.” Other than Kang’s dreamy “Drifting” the band decided to go out with a bang, stampeding to a finish with “Rain,” “Rhythm of the Road,” “Bumpin’ Reel” with the cheer-inducing line of “This is what we wanted/Look what we got.” “Shine” wrapped it up to thunderous applause.
In a rare moment, fitting for the final gig, Travis handled vocal duties on Pink Floyd’s “Fearless.” “Whiskey Before Breakfast” was then followed by a raucous version of “Good Time Round the Bend,” the title of which leaves open the possibility of something happening down the road.
A second encore concluded the band’s 14 year run from bluegrass upstarts to stadium headliners with a fan following that at times defied logic, but grew into a family and network of thousands of like-minded souls. And though it was Nershi who instigated the band’s split, the group exemplified the bond that held them together so long, allowing Nershi the final number, “Texas,” his rousing, light-hearted tale of slipping past the man, which flowed seamlessly into a final jam of bombastic proportions. All that was missing were the pyrotechnics.
Or were they?