The String Cheese Incident, 1stBank Arena, Broomfield, CO – 12/30
Photo by Larry Hulst
String Cheese Incident’s second show of their three-night “Hometown Throw-down”, the band’s first Colorado News Year’s run in 14 years, was more than just another pre-holiday warm-up. This was a rollicking and inspired three hours of music performed by a band seemingly at the top of its game, so well-played and incendiary that for SCI fans packing the First Bank Arena, it may as well have been the coveted New Year’s show itself, minus the usual end-of-year balloon drop and other celebratory trappings.
Taking the stage just before 8 p.m., SCI launched into the Weather Report’s jazz standard “Birdland”, propelled by bassist Keith Moseley’s nimble polyrhythms.
It quickly became apparent that whatever muse SCI guitarist Bill Nershi chases had made Broomfield its home for the evening. Whether his lightning-fast bluegrass licks during Bill Monroe’s “Wheel Hoss” or his long acoustic runs during the elegiac “Little Hands”, Nershi seemed supernaturally linked to his guitar. Noticeably exuberant, Nershi often jumped to the beat, his shaggy white hair bouncing in time to drummer Michael Travis’ and percussionist Jason Hamm’s potent grooves.
Early in the opening set, Nershi led the crowd through a group hoot. “It’s the only way to fight the darkness,” he said, referring in part, no doubt, to the recent gun-related tragedies across the U.S.
Kang echoed Nershi’s desire for equanimity in a soulful but blistering version of “Black and White” which led many in the crowd to sing along to the song’s chorus of “Can’t you see that not everything is black and white? Can’t you feel that we need each other’s strength and might?”
Throughout, SCI played to each other as much as they did to the jubilant cheese heads, who reveled in the band’s camaraderie, casting waves of positive energy toward the stage. Kang and Nershi often faced each other, Kang’s electric mandolin phrasing and violin strokes weaving around Nershi’s acoustic strumming and flatpicking to form an aural latticework built on empathy and emotion.
After a 45-minute break, SCI began their second set with a potent “Texas” sandwich. Kyle Hollingsworth’s nimble keyboard work punctuated the long jam out of that “smalltime Texas town” while the band headed straight to Jamaica for a loose and limber run-through of Bob Marley’s “Kinky Reggae.”
Nershi got behind the wheel again for a lively “Rhythm of the Road, but Kang drove the song home with a firey solo before Nershi brought the tune to its usual mellow, head-bopping conclusion.
The pace slowed when Hollingsworth steered the band through “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”. Hollingsworth has made this Talking Heads song his own, adding a layer of introspection the original seems to lack.
Next up was the crowd-pleasing “Joyful Sound”. Moseley introduced the tune with wall-rattling bass bombs that would make Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh proud before leading the throng through the “feel good” song.
SCI closed its second set with a brief return to “Texas” before taking a breather. They returned to the stage for a cheesy cover of Van Halen’s “Jump” before heading back to bluegrass territory for a romp through the old-time fiddling standard “Whiskey Before Breakfast.”
Save for the magnetic second-set cover of Adele’s “I’ll Be Waiting”, there were no surprises on this night — but SCI more than delivered in providing several thousand blissful fans with an evening of eye-popping and mind-bending virtuosity.