String Cheese Incident, 1STBANK Center, Broomfield, CO – 3/12
Photo by Larry Hulst
Although the String Cheese Incident just concluded their first “Winter Carnival” shows in four years, there were few indications that they were simply starting where they had left off. The shows took place in a new venue, Broomfield, Colorado’s 1STBANK Center, roughly twice the size of the Denver Fillmore, where they had celebrated almost every winter season for eight years. With the exception of an overzealous security team (1STBANK Center is quickly becoming notorious for its zero-tolerance, “hands on” security and direct service to Broomfield County Jail), the venue was a perfect fit for the band and their growing family of acrobats, Burners, artists, and fans, all of whom seem to share a gift in the art of colorful, often surreal, and always-entertaining eye candy. The venue is large enough to accommodate large bands like Phish and Furthur, yet intimate enough to offer great sound, vantage points, and plenty of group spaces for the family-reunion type gatherings that SCI is known for.
By the time I entered the venue on the third and final night of the run, I was well aware that I was going to be one of the most under-dressed fans in the venue. Needless to say, it was one of the most flashy, sexy crowds I’ve ever seen at a show. From hallucinatory sparkly pants to an array of colorfully-crafted short shorts, the environment evoked some Eleusian, disco paradise. Walking through the concourse, I was greeted by multiple stilt walkers, a young juggler shimmying his way around the venue atop a large yoga ball, a Pan-like figure bouncing around on spring-loaded stilts (he was later seen between sets wowing the crowd with a series of backflips), and, of course, the variety of beautiful and strange SCI-themed costumes, from out-of-water jellyfish to the ever elusive walking 80-dollar bill that somehow always gets away. Luckily, there were both a camera-laden ski gondola and a professional photography studio in which these memories could be captured.
As with any “incident,” the band seemed to craft a unique synergy with the crowd. In fact, if there was any indication that they have only played a dozen or so shows in the last four years, it was in the audience’s palpable excitement. Of course, the band played plenty of old favorites — “Search,” “100 Year Flood” and “Shantytown” just to name a few — but I was surprised by just how new many of these “old” songs felt. The band is not resting on its laurels. In fact, it appears that their laurels were stomped up in some creative fire and accidentally thrown away with Michael Kang’s acoustic mandolin. Aside from three new songs played during evening — Billy Nershi’s “Song in My Head” (inspired by his daughter, Lauren), “Let’s Go Outside,” a new Kyle Hollingsworth original, and the rousingly funky “Rosie” — even the well-seasoned songs were played with new vigor, new explorations, and new changes indicating that the band has continued to refine their songs even during hiatus.
As was to be expected, the Saturday night incident was more of an electronic dance party than a bluegrass hoedown. And while I have always longed for the days when tedious bass thumps took a back seat to the Latin grooves, African beats, and acoustic twang that used to fill every setlist, I was pleasantly surprised by how much better their electronic excursions have become. This was no longer the String Cheese Incident in which their most prolific songwriter often looked confused and out of place as he tried to find space for his acoustic guitar in the muck of 128 measures of static repetition. Instead, SCI has finally crafted their own approach to the genre, adding much more soul and dynamism to the mix by refining their melodic sensibilities on top of some downright exciting rhythms.
Of course, the opening act, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, might have had an influence on this newly refined funky approach, but even after the New Orleans quintet had adjourned for the night after a rousing collaboration on Billy Preston’s “Will it Go Round in Circles,” SCI kept the funky ball rolling (or in this case bouncing) for the remainder of the evening, providing fresh covers of the Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another” and Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,” the latter of which was cleverly sandwiched inside of “Black Clouds.” The evening culminated in one of the most spectacular parades/ dance parties I’ve ever experienced at a concert, replete with multiple aerial dancers, acrobats suspended from the rafters from bungee cords, and even four separate rising platforms on which four vixens who appeared to be visiting us from some futuristic James Bond mecca danced provocatively above the multiple parade banners welcoming spring. The band provided an extended exploration of “Way Back Home” for the spectacle, and I couldn’t help but think it was the perfect song for the occasion. While there’s a tinge of disappointment in knowing that SCI is no longer touring regularly, we can all be rest assured that, when they do play, the occasion will be more special, more adventurous, and more celebratory than ever before.