String Cheese Incident | 1st Bank Center | 12/28/2013 | Review
Colorado’s String Cheese Incident is one of the few touring bands that draws so many loyal followers regardless of how rarely they actually perform. Cheese was touring over a hundred days a year in the early 2000s, as nationally traveled as any, with trips to the Caribbean, Costa Rica, and Mexico sprinkled in. As the guys grew up, their families and different musical ambitions made rigorous touring less possible. So now they get together for a dozen or so shows a year and really throw down a gigantic production, musical guests galore, and are always affiliated with charity and social consciousness. It’s clear why their loyal fans will continue to support them regardless of the amount of time they put in the clock. Lately the guys have really upped the anti for an exciting coming milestone. The band turns twenty this New Years Eve. In 1994 they were playing their first show with drummer Mike Travis at a bar in Telluride on December 31st. The guys are honoring the occasion with an array of announced and unannounced friends for the big night. The “warm-up” shows on the 28th and 29th weren’t too shabby either. Saturdays show featured funk legend Bootsy Collins and the Funk Unity Band as the opener. The band also billed Tiny Universe front man Karl Denson and his trumpet partner Chris Littlefield as the horn section for the first two shows. Fans were pumped and Cheese invited Grateful Web to the party.
The opening Bootsy Collins set was a little less attended than expected. Many less musically educated fans missed out. Bootsy’s set was a fun warm up. Perhaps a larger crowd might have amped up the energy level. By the time String Cheese Incident took stage the 1st Bank Center was well filled out, perhaps a little less than sold out.
The Saturday night crowd was treated to a truly unexpected kickoff combo. The boys started the show with the first ever performance of the Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band into With A Little Help From My Friends. So blown away, it took a minute to absorb the perfectly reinvented rendition of the famous opening combo off of the Beatles quintessential foray into psychedelic rock. Michael Kang (mandolin), Billy Nershi (guitar), Keith Moseley (bass), and Kyle Hollingsworth (piano) exchanged the intricate vocal layering and totally executed the rare opener. The band transitions into the passionate Just One Story finding Kang in fine vocal form. The extended instrumental to follow is a mini jam-opera that had hardcore fans more than satisfied. With the energy level already surging drummers Travis and Jason Hann led the band into the familiar percussion intro of Little Hands. Many would consider the Little Hands -> Dudley’s Kitchen combo to be fundamental Cheese. It’s a key paring that many old school fans know note-for-note from String Cheese’s first Live self-titled EP back from 1997. Nershi’s flat-pick dexterity and Kang’s souring fiddle leads are as polished and accurate as back in the day. It’s clear that when the guys get together, every Incident is special, elaborate, and very musically important. Other first set highlights included an intense jam out of Rain, and the Tiny Universe horns punching up a personal favorite, Kang’s Black and White.
The second set was strong, but may not have lived up to the momentum built up from earlier. Since Kyle wrote Can’t Wait Another Day, an upbeat proclamation about his excitement for fatherhood, it’s been pretty heavy in the rotation. The crowd and band favorite Jellyfish followed giving the guys a chance to dig real deep with some intense jamming before colliding into Rollover. Next, the band got sentimental honoring a fallen friend with Keith’s tribute Struggling Angel. The rest of the second set got real funky with a cover of Kool and the Gang’s Jungle Boogie sandwiched in between Dirk. The guys didn’t have to twist our arm for a true encore call. Billy addressed the crowd, and introduced his new solo folk tune Down a River. It was well received after a very electric second set. The close out the night the boys brought down the roof with the classics Lester Had A Coconut and Round the Wheel. With the encore clocking in at well over 20 minutes, it was clear that the guys were in no rush to call it a night.
Aside from their Hullaween shows in Florida it had been since summer that the guys performed an official show together. It’s apparent that they are in strong form, and that true fans should not miss the ultimate New Years Eve 20th Anniversary Event. I should say that I felt the band underused the extremely talented and high stamina of Karl Denson and Chris Littlefield, who only made it out for an extended appearance before the end of the first set. I’m sure many other guests are to come as Cheeses roots run quite deep. Catch you all New Years Eve!