The String Cheese Incident has played eleven shows since partially disbanding in 2007. The few shows they have played since then -- six of which have been in Colorado -- have been received with mixed feelings from fans. To many, the band has lacked a chemistry it once had back in the late '90s, touring 150 plus days out of the year, and playing fewer shows hasn't helped things. But despite not playing for an audience since Halloween last year, the String Cheese Incident kicked off its three-night Winter Carnival run at the 1STBANK Center well rehearsed and tighter than it has been in years.
It was refreshing change from the mediocre and dispassionate Red Rocks runs we've been getting on the Front Range. One of the main reasons for the band's split in 2007 was that musical differences were dragging the once spacey-bluegrass band in too many directions. Guitarist Billy Nershi expressed his frustration with the movement towards more electronic-inspired dance music, saying he often felt lost on stage during the band's improvisational sessions.
But last night, Nershi's playing was loud and clear throughout. The crisp tone of his Martin acoustic sounded great in the at times boomy room, and he sounded confident on stage as he laid down strong solos in the opener "Smile" and carried the band through a transition from the Weather Report classic "Birdland" into the bluegrass ripper "Wheel Hoss" and back into the funky "Birdland." Nershi also debuted a new song, "Colorado Bluebird Sky," which he said comes from his impressions of the Centennial State when he moved out west from New Jersey years ago. It was great to see them going back to their bluegrass roots with this tune.
The crowd was mellow, considering it was the band's first night back since Halloween. Lots of bowls being smoked, but not as many kids loose on psychedelics as the past Red Rocks runs have had. Of course, it was Thursday, and we do have a whole weekend ahead of us. There were plenty of costumes though, with lots of people bringing back the classic String Cheese capes and glitter-wear for the night.
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The band didn't go heavily into the electronica-style jams that some say was the downfall of the more organic and spacey jamming style the band had through the early part of the 2000s, but it still was able to up the untz-untz through sections of "Water" in the first set (which mandolin player Michael Kang shined during), and the spacey and thumping Irish jig of "Rivertrance." Percussionist Jason Hahn and drummer Michael Travis played perfectly together, opening up space at times for the other to provide fills. Hann's tabla work and use of the talking drum stood out solidly.
It was clear the guys had practiced, with refreshed versions of "Sometimes a River" and "Betray the Dark" being notably well-rehearsed. But it wasn't all perfect, and songs like "Black and White" and "Piece of Mine" had a few missed changes. Though, overall it was a much tighter SCI than even last October at the Fourmile Canyon benefit. The band also showed they still have a good sense of humor on stage. In the middle of keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth's Billy Preston-esque "BAM", the band shifted into Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You." Nershi also played the entire second set with a silver wig on, proclaiming twice that he was "Rick James, bitch."
But SCI also showed a soulful side, connecting with the audience through singalongs like bassist Kieth Moseley's "Sometimes a River," Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On" and a strong "Barstool" for the encore. For the most part, everyone seemed to be communicating well on stage and, more importantly, having a good time together. It's not quite where they left off, but if last night's playing was any indication, the band is on the right road to getting back to where they were.
The String Cheese Incident plays tonight and again on Saturday at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield.
Click through for last night's setlist and Critic's Notebook.
String Cheese Incident 1STBANK Center, Broomfield, CO 03.10.11
Smile Birdland > Wheel Hoss > Birdland Sometimes a River Black and White Suntan Don't Say > Water Colorado Bluebird Sky
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BAM! > Fuck You > BAM! Betray the Dark Rivertrance Cottonmouth Piece of Mine Sweet Melinda Big Shoes > Ramble On
ENCORE Barstool Tore Up Over You.
Last night's show (and every show of the run) is downloadable at LiveCheese.com
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I've been seeing SCI since 1999 and will always have a soft spot in my musical heart for them. Random Detail: Best lights I've seen at 1STBANK yet. Very cool projections of mountains, beaches and all sorts of psychedelic lights shows on the video curtain. By the Way: Fuck you to the guy who shushed me like a child (ironically) during "Fuck You" as I proclaimed to a friend how great the choice in covers was. I hope my chatter ruined your shaky, 4 megapixel YouTube video.