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Published: 2015/02/20
by Matt Williams

The String Cheese Incident, Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL- 1/30

Photo by Keith Griner

Ever since news broke that Solider Field will host the Grateful Dead’s final shows this coming Fourth of July weekend, Chicago concert-goers have been on cloud nine. With what are sure to be the most hyped concerts for the city in all of 2015 (or any recent year, depending on who you ask), July 3 can’t come soon enough. Though Chicagoans will patiently wait for that glorious weekend to arrive—the Windy City luckily didn’t have to wait too long for another great live musical act to come to town. On Friday January 30, the String Cheese Incident returned to Aragon Ballroom for the second night of a three-concert run.

Taking the stage underneath the Aragon’s incredible night-sky mural, the group opened the show with “Let’s go Outside,” off their latest record, Song in my Head. Following the Kyle Hollingsworth tune came “So far from Home,” another song from SCI’s 2014 release. Though more bluegrass-ish numbers would come later in the night, this song’s fast tempo and jamgrass feel made it easy to remember why the Chicago Bluegrass Festival decided to include Cheese’s three-night concert run as part of their lineup. As “So far from Home” came to a close, the band slowed the tempo as Hollingsworth’s keys segued into the Doors’ raunchy classic, “L.A. Woman,” as guitarist Bill Nershi belted out, “rising, rising!”

For the fourth song of the set, Cheese went with the feel-good number, “‘Round the Wheel.” The Colorado-based band took this into a near fifteen-minute improv, which included a spacey, bass-pounding jam. This improv displayed a prime example of why the String Cheese Incident are one of the most musically diverse outfits currently touring the country.

It was then Bassist Keith Moseley’s turn to take the microphone as he performed a fan requested track off of Song in my Head, “Struggling Angel.” Moseley’s bass and Michael Kang’s guitar led the band into a well-paced, uplifting jam before bringing the song to a close. Next, String Cheese played a tune that debuted just last spring, “Beautiful.” Though many fans may not have heard this unreleased track before, the nearly sold out crowd fully embraced this catchy, intense tune as drummer Michael Travis and percussionist Jason Hann laid the foundation of the song with a heavy-pounding drum beat, allowing Kang to take a fitting guitar solo until going back into the song’s easily recognizable breakdown. Right after the breakdown, the band continued right where they had left off with a fast-paced, high energy jam.

Bill Nershi then led the band into a fifteen minute version of “Restless Wind,” which showcased the nicely compatible playing styles of Nershi (on guitar) and Kang (on mandolin). Kang then picked up the violin while he and Nershi traded solos, allowing Hollingsworth to slowly creep in with the organ-synthesized keys until he took off with a solo. Rounding out set one was an electric version of Hollingsworth’s “Piece of Mine,” which has evolved into a solid rock song since Cheese began playing it a few years back. With this final song of the set, Kang channeled his inner Clapton as he tore through an electric guitar solo, leading the way to a strong climatic jam. This left fans with an intense musical buzz going into the set break.

Before kicking off set two with the bluegrass-flavored “Colorado Bluebird Sky,” Nershi addressed the already rowdy crowd to confirm everyone in attendance was exerted “good vibes into the universe,” as put by the beloved Colorado native. The rest of the night’s performance was a jam-heavy set, which rounded out set two with just six songs.

Travis and Hann then dove Cheese into “Rivertrance,” which had the whole crowd up and moving as Kang, Moseley, Hollingsworth, and Nershi slowly entered the jam until Kang’s mandolin took the lead. The group fused the classical sound of Kang’s violin and Nershi’s guitar with the new age jam that the rest of the band had rolled out—creating a sound that only the String Cheese Incident can produce.

“Sweet Spot,” which Moseley described as a song about when you and your loved one are “in the right place, in the right groove,” was a fun sing-along tune that no doubt helped create positive vibes that Nershi was hoping for. This song, which also made its debut in 2014, featured an electrically climatic jam, similar to the one found in set one’s “Piece of Mine.”

Nershi took the lead on “Just One Story,” which played out to a 13 minute plus jam which was built off a Moseley bass line and Hollingsworth piano rift. As the bassist and keyboardist lead the foundation of the jam, the drum section ran with it while Kang laid a well-placed guitar solo over it. Next, SCI introduced the complex yet easy going number, “Don’t Say,” allowing Hollingsworth to shine on the keys.

The highlight of “Search” was no doubt the drumming of Hann and Travis, as the pair delivered some of the most complex beats of the night’s performance. Following “Search,” the group went into the String Cheese classic “Texas.” As the band began their final improv of the night, they began with a playing style that had yet to be featured at any time of the night’s performance—a stripped down sound with a very slow tempo. This experimental style continued for about five minutes until Kang’s last howl, almost setting off a switch in the band as Cheese then dove into a fast paced jam, which progressed faster and faster until the nearly 20 minute song concluded set two.

As they came out for the encore, Nershi told the crowd that, “We thought we’d play some blues since we’re in Chicago” and proceeded with Muddy Waters’ classic, “Got my Mojo Working.” To cap off the night, the Colorado sextet played a bluegrass version of the Grateful Dead’s “I know you Rider.”

Though the announcement of the Dead’s 2015 farewell shows may have stolen the concert-news headlines, a talented band like the String Cheese Incident still deserved Chicago’s attention. With a packed-house on the second of a three night run, Chicagoans no doubt agreed and fortunately for all in attendance, Cheese delivered the goods.

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