The String Cheese Incident is in the midst of their expansive March Madness tour of the West. The run has thus far seen enthusiastic crowds, intimate venues, and resilient playing from the band. Their two set shows have highlighted a career retrospective of tunes and expansively inspired grooves. The two Fox Theater gigs last weekend are being heralded as the fiercest of the tour yet. Newer tunes for the bands 2014 album Song In My Head are blending elaborately with String Cheese’s snowballing sound. The unit of Kyle Hollingsworth (piano), Keith Moseley (bass), Michael Travis (drums and percussion), Jason Hann (drums and percussion), Michael Kang (mandolin, guitars, fiddle) and Bill Nershi (guitars) are interlinked the way they were in the early 2000s when they played nonstop tours and originally built their full live prowess. This knack of reading a crowd, setting, and musical situation is what makes the spontaneity of a Cheese show particularly dynamic and exciting.
The second of two nights at the Fox set the energy level equally high but on a totally different note from the acoustic roots beginning to the previous evening. They boisterously began with the electro funk dance tune “Colliding,” which has grown increasingly more vigorous since it’s live introduction a few years ago. The insistent co-vocals of Kang, Moseley, and Hollingsworth brought a wider spectrum of verve to the party. Cheese has a fine knack of channeling the vitality of disco, funk, electronic, and soul channeled refreshingly into a contemporary approach. Next came the classic Kang fronted “Born on the Wrong Planet” (also the title of their debut album.) Just like the night before, the band brought all of its twenty-three years of music to the table. After some interstellar jamming between Kang’s mando envelope effects and Kyle’s crunchy synthesizer the band kept the disco vibe alive with a pumped-up cover of K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight,” still keeping it fresh especially with the percussive punch of Travis and Hann.
Continuing the exceedingly diverse spectrum, the band’s medley fashion brought their celebrated cover of New Grass Revival’s “Can’t Stop Now.” Moseley’s hearty baritone always brings back the grassy roots of SCI, which is at times is put on the back burner for their dance-band side. Keeping the classics coming Billy Nershi broke out his country western inspired “Windy Mountain,” likely catching the vibe from Keith’s grassy previous notion. Nershi hadn’t fronted many songs the previous night so the tune was especially appreciated. The real bust out of the whole weekend came next with the unlikely dusting off of “These Waves.” The mighty John Perry Barlow (Grateful Dead lyricist and family member) and Michael Kang collaboration was as potent as when it was regularly performed in the early 2000s. The remarkable finale jam featured a soaring mandolin fronted apex that reached the melodic bliss craved by die hard Cheese Heads.
After the extreme rarity the band broke into some serious percussion jamming and Afro-inspired scatting headed by Jason Hann before reaching the definitive SCI song “Round the Wheel” which ended the first set. During the final tune the full monster SCI lightshow and multimedia stage setup emitted all of its luster and explosive potential. A short set break left the friendly crowd to chirp about the outstanding first set before gathering back together for a equally astounding follow up. “It Is What It Is” opened the second set. Song #2 of the evening’s Kang/Barlow catalogue was a journey of musical peaks and a true showcase of the full band’s interconnectivity. Hann’s percussion rolls into the center jam crash into Kang’s authoritative lead solo guitar and Billy’s Stratocaster rhythm-scape backed Hollingsworth’s uninhabited organ fills. All of this sandwiched by Barlow’s signature lyrics about accepting the strains of life as they present themselves.
The newest song of the night came with “Stop Drop Roll.” A trance electro entrenched dance-off demonstrated the elaborate lighting rig and the continually wide-ranging blend of rave-ups that brought Cheese’s sound to become a festival essential. To contrast, next came the old school contemplative “Rhythm of the Road,” once again fronted by an acoustic toting Billy Nershi. Fans went wild for this lesser played chestnut. The “Rivertrance” that followed met the well-jammed tune with equal excitement. A favorite of the band and crowd collectively, the Kang fiddle-centered master jam always takes the second set to the psychedelic outer limits. A quirky rendition of the quintessential Cheese tune “Jellyfish” reminded the community of the goofy telltale, “if you drink to much tequila, stay at home the next day!” A notably punchy rendition of “Sirens” brought the love all around before hitting the apex of the set two finale, “Just One Story.”
Match the energy of the monstrous encore call, SCI came out and delivered one of their oldest beloved originals. “Barstool” brought Nershi to the forefront once again, making him an MVP of sorts for that evening’s classics. A big surprise came with Keith fronted a second encore cover of “Don’t Let Go.” Jerry Garcia, who performed the song more than any other single artist, popularized the celebrated Roy Hamilton hit in the rock scene. SCI broke out the tune in 2014 for the first time and has played it only once before the swan song in Oakland. Leaving the crowd with a warm fuzzy feeling Cheese bid farewell and headed to Southern California where they continued their tour. Grateful Web would like to warmly thank String Cheese Incident and Madison House Productions for inviting us to the Oakland Incident. The Fox is undoubtedly one of the newer churches of Cheese. Catch the band on the road this week in Vegas and all summer long for their expansive nationwide touring schedule.