As the saying goes, breaking up is hard to do. However the end of the first chapter of the String Cheese Incident might have been the most amicable amongst any artists in recent musical history. The members of the band have decided to part ways indefinitely in order to pursue other artistic interests and frankly back away from the machine for awhile. The boys had embarked on a successful final summer tour and aptly chose to close it out in their backyard: Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado. Rather than a tearful goodbye, the finals shows were a complete celebration of the band as well as its fans.
The first three shows of this concluding run gave fans the best in sight and sound. Masterful jams were accompanied by fire hula-hoopers, trapeze artists, laser light shows, and digitally projected art. It was truly an exceptional experience for anyone who has followed the progress of the String Cheese Incident throughout the years.
As euphoric as these performances were, they were merely a prelude to what was to be the final incident (at least for a long while). The Sunday night show was the finest culmination of art and music, and the group definitely saved the best for last.
The first of three sets began with the group all up front together, performing what Michael Kang called "some old songs from back in the beginning". Kang, Billy Nershi, and Keith Moseley were on their respective instruments while Kyle Hollingsworth brought out his accordion. Percussionists Michael Travis and Jason Haan sported a variety of simple hand drums that anchored the raw, acoustic, and grassy renditions of "Lester had a Coconut", "Long Journey Home", "Panama Red", "Panama Red", and "Hobo Song" that underscored this fun opening set.
Adding to the already carnival-like atmosphere of the weekend, colorful dancers on stilts and a giant octopus moved and grooved through the crowd during this kickoff set.
Shortly after this night's warm introductory set, the band returned to the stage to begin two full on sets of music. The sure-fire opening of "One Step Closer" was back dropped by a projected slide show containing pictures of the band and fans throughout the years. The group continued jamming, and couldn't help but turn and watch the reminiscent presentation themselves.
The jam eventually lent way to the old favorite "Rhum 'n' Zouc", then right into an exhilarating "Sirens" which had bassist Keith Moseley properly proclaiming his affection, "I just want to say I love you....and make sure you feel it every day."
At this point in the evening the ominous looking clouds above Morrison began to dissipate and reveal a breathtaking sky full of stars; perhaps Mother Nature's way of sharing this historic night with the rest of the galaxy.
A lengthy jam from "Sirens" segued into a monster rendition of "Come As You Are", complete with SCI's signature spacey improvisations. This was a particularly funky version of this concert staple, as Moseley was pretty slap-happy throughout its entirety.
An energized "Best Feeling" highlighted this second set, not only because of its perfection and rhythm but because it introduced a hula-hooping Keller Williams to the stage. The departure of Cheese would not have been complete without the appearance of the band's "seventh member" and longtime collaborator.
The crowd at Red Rocks went completely wild as Keller stayed on through the funk-rock original "Fuel for the Road". Following his exit the band finished off the second act of the night with a rousing and befitting delivery of "Way Back Home".
With the third and final set looming, fans were still beaming with energy and were generally enthusiastic. So far, this celebration had been everything any fan could have asked for. They seemed to be relishing the moment, rather than focusing on the end.
The band returned to the stage and played through what might have been one of their best performed sets in their entire fourteen year history. "Restless Wind" kicked off things in its typical jamgrass style, complete with a healthy fiddle jam served by Kang.
The subsequent Hollingsworth original "Piece of Mind" was not only high-powered but also provocative, as images of our eroding planet and corrupt politicians splashed the video screens behind the group.
The marvelously cosmic combination of "Looking Glass" into "Drifting" was accentuated by a breathtaking laser show. Brilliant beams of green, expanding lights shot over the crowd and explored images of animated figures dancing on the amphitheater's famous boulders.
The fluid transition into the ensuing "Rain" was outstanding, all in part to Hollingsworth's astonishing keyboard work. The rest of the band was also in full momentum, weaving each intricate jam seamlessly into the other. At this point the laser show was getting even more intense. Plumes of fog rolled over the crowd and danced through the laser shoots.
The pinnacle of the set came next in the SCI standard, "Rhythm of the Road". The final offering of the song that has pretty much defined the band since the beginning was just absolutely phenomenal. From Neshi's introductory notes to the climactic apex near the end, it was the crowing point of the entire weekend.
However it did not end there, as the band continued right into an upbeat and foot-stomping throw down of "Bumpin' Reel". The evening's parade concluded with another long-time favorite "Shine", which featured an amazing opening drum solo by Travis.
This stellar performance led to a thunderous ovation that gave way to not one, but two encore performances. The first began with a cover of Pink Floyd's "Fearless" which showcased Travis on vocals. It was followed by the old-time bluegrass tune "Whiskey Before Breakfast", before concluding with the most appropriate Moseley original "Good Times Around the Bend". The fitting chorus of "Sometimes it seems like such a hard life, but there's good times around the bend... The rollercoaster's got to roll to the bottom if you want to climb to the top again" was a fine show ender indeed and at this point had many loyal Cheeseheads (as well as some band members) in tears.
Though the curfew at Red Rocks was already long broken, the powers that be let the band return one more time to perform probably the most popular of all their concert songs, "Texas". The song is possibly the finest exemplification of the band's catalog and was the likely favorite to complete the first period in String Cheese history. The boys did not disappoint as they peppered this version with as much Latin and rock flavor as could be handled. An extensive jam full of spectacular tension-and-release peaks and bold interludes underlined what might go down as SCI's swan song.