The String Cheese Incident, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, Co 7/23-25
The String Cheese Incident is back. But did it ever truly feel like they were gone? When they left back in ’07 – for various and multi-layered reasons – it felt for a moment that perhaps the train would be stopped for a long while, if not for good. But like an old friend who moves away while continuing to stay in touch, even paying a visit once or twice, String Cheese stayed on the sidelines of the jamband world for the last couple years, but never fully moved into the shadows. Various side projects for all members have been in action for some time, and at the very least have allowed Cheese fans reason to believe that one day all the tentacles would come back to the body.
Red Rocks was on fire all weekend. The shows ended up being what I had hoped for, and so much more. I wanted to be fair and realistic to the band, trying to limit my expectations heading into the weekend. Fans’ expectations can be a bitch, unfairly placing pressure and ideals that can’t always be reached. But at the same time expectations can drive a group’s performance to the stratosphere.
I think (for lack of a better term) “reunion shows” can be hit or miss for sure. If there is one thing I would make a guess on it’s that SCI put in some practice between their last appearance (Rothbury ’09) and the shows at Red Rocks in this the summer of 2010. The playing was tight and energetic, with no signs of rust at all. Throw in the insane vibe of the crowd, and you’ve got somethin’.
FRIDAY JULY 23
Friday night had the feel of Christmas morning. Soaking it up in Lower South Lot 2 before the show you could just feel how happy people were to be together hanging out and doing their thing. I made my way inside the venue a bit early so I could really just sit and people watch. When the band came on stage around 8 pm the crowd exploded. All the band members came out of that tunnel smiling, and bass player Keith Mosley showed his child-like joy by pumping his arms in the air repeatedly, with an accompanying massive smile on his face that would last for days. Guitar player Billy Nershi stepped to the microphone and shouted, “OH YEAH! Yes Yes Yes! It’s good to be back!”
The first three songs of the opening set on opening night were a classic nod to the joyful, youthful, sunshine-on-your face trip that SCI can lay down so well: The high-octane dust-kicker “Can’t Stop Now” followed by the sequence of “Round The Wheel” into a cover of the Talking Head’s “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody).” Just before the band segued into one of keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth’s favorite covers, the playful piano player said, “We were talking back stage, and the answer is yes.” Let the speculation begin. The end of the first set brought about a “Best Feeling”> ”Outside And Inside” that Funked the place up. Hollingsworth and Mosley traded ivory and bass jabs like sparing partners during the up-tempo “Outside And Inside”, while also giving Nershi the room to shred to the upper-limits.
Mid-way through the second set mandolin/fiddle player Michael Kang showed his stuff during “Rivertrance,” which is also a great platform for drummer Michael Travis and percussionist Jason Hann as well. The psychedelic space waves created were a perfect circle for Kang to dance around in with his echoing, melodic fiddle playing. As the song was building so was the beat and tempo, with Nershi and Hollingsworth adding the subtle accents to the mix. It was a beautiful, primal organic version of the song. Near the end of the show the wind really started whipping around Red Rocks. I noticed several stage hands holding on for dear life to the massive vertical LED lights that were suspended behind the band as they swayed back and forth. As the band came back for their encore Hollingsworth noted “this wind seems terribly restless.” The guys then went into a somewhat timid “Brand New Start” and seemed to cut the song a bit short. I’m thinking the wind played a factor.
SATURDAY JULY 24
Getting into the venue on Saturday was a bastard. My girlfriend and I made the mistake of waiting a bit too long to head inside, and subsequently found ourselves in the middle of ridiculous line. At any rate, Saturday really felt like the party night. You get the first night out of the way and settle in. And even though all three shows were sold out, the Saturday crowd really seemed to be bursting. Coming on stage all band members were once again giddy. Travis came out with a little video recorder pointed at the crowd while Kang stepped to the mic and commented, “That was a crazy one last night, let’s see if we can pick up where we left off”. Keeping with Hollingsworth’s comment from the night before the band opened with “Restless Wind.” Nuggets “Mouna Bowa” and “Rhythm Of The Road” followed. At some point during this sequence, parachuters appeared over the venue and began circling above the crowd. As many patrons began cheering wildly and looking skyward I was momentarily confused, but then looking at the band I saw they all had huge Cheshire grins and I got the feeling they knew something. The second night saw once again a great closing to the first set. This particular sequence happened as such; “Jellyfish”> “Black Clouds.” This “Jellyfish” was the most funky, down and dirty take-your-close-off-and-groove version I’ve ever seen. The bass line was fat and plump and pulsating. Hell, Alice even made and appearance.
The second set opened with “Desert Dawn” and once again the parachuters returned. The sun had set by this point, and the flying sky-beings had what looked like sparks trailing them, giving the absurd visual of little comets flying just above. The end of the second set provided the hilarious “Johnny Cash”>”Hava Nagilah”>”Johnny Cash” sandwich, with Nershi singing “Johnny Cash don’t smoke hash.” The double encore for this night was the taker for the weekend. The first encore had the great bluegrass tune “How Mountain Girls Can Love” followed by the cult favorite “Texas.” With the crowd in an absolute fit the band returned for a second encore cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mighty Quinn.”
SUNDAY JULY 25
The same mistake was made this night as was the previous. Needless to say we waited in line for 45 minutes. But we worried not. Sunday was a great night. A full moon was upon us and the band closed out the weekend with feeling.
Mid-way into the first set the “love theme” was put on. “Love Is Like A Train” followed by the Mosley inspired “Sirens.” The swampy, fried-out opening notes of “Sirens” that lead into the beauty and serenity of the chorus — I have always dug this song and I’m glad the boys pulled it out.
The opening of the second set on Sunday provided probably the one song I wanted to hear above all else; A “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” sandwich with James Brown’s “Sex Machine” in the middle. Hearing those opening notes to “Miss Brown’s” sent the Sunday crowd into instant dance mode. Hollingsworth stepped in during this version and spliced the air with all types of note coloration. Shortly after “Joyful Sound” was played, and the band once again sampled the electronic-heavy outro. It’s damn fun when they add this to the back end of “Joyful Sound”; deep dance beats riding up-and-down waves is always a good time. Closing out the show – and weekend – in style, Cheese covered Kansas’s “Carry On My Wayward Son” and followed with the appropriate “On The Road” with Hollingsworth once again displaying his absolute relentless domination and determination on the keys.
This weekend happened and it was glorious. I’m a major fan of these guys, no denying that. But more so than that, being around friends and experiencing the music, that’s what drives me. And I’m sure that’s what drives other fans and ultimately, that’s probably what drives the band. If SCI decides to full-on tour, then hell yeah. If not, then more power to ‘em. But their music and the community is there and always will be.