For the third year running, jam-grass veterans The String Cheese Incident set up their New Year’s Eve residency at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, Colorado for three nights of songs and celebration in their own backyard. The rear of the seated bowl was sparse Monday, but a creeping night one buzz helped melt conversations about the negative temperatures outside. Before too long the heads were hiding their winter jackets and sniffing out opportunities to sneak onto the general admission floor without spilling beer on their event posters. Others stood in awe of the glitter adorned stilt-walkers in the atrium. Regardless, the hometown musical circus had certainly moved in.
Because one night is never enough, the three-night stand has become the norm at the close of the holiday season. Denver adopts artists for New Year runs where they can churn out magic without worrying about bus call to the next city. Being a stones’ throw from home, SCI has been a no-brainer the past few years. But considering the abundance of out of town acts ushered in, we’re fortunate to have hosted them at such a venue, and will hopefully continue to do so.
The first evening with SCI saw guitarist/vocalist Bill Nershi hopping up and down, speechlessly engaging the crowd. Their goofy, free-natured stage presence came to life under the wafting cones of aerial lights as an extensive “Round the Wheel” set off in a hoot of a hurry. And just like that, the incident was underway.
Bassist Keith Moseley sang lead on “Sirens,” with percussionist Jason Hann dropping some hip hop knowledge, and a rare “These Waves” had everybody swaying like parrot heads. “Bumpin’ Reel’s” Appalachian grass-tronica then developed out of a “Booty Bump” jam. The cat loving keyboard guru Kyle Hollingsworth jumped from synthesizers and a world of sounds to classical piano, falling right in line with Michael Kang’s violin for the instrumental launch. A standalone “Outside and Inside” delved into rock and roll electric guitar solos and a blaring organ to compliment the heavy hitting rhythm section like something out of a late sixties Traffic concert.
“Dirk” provided two slices of bread for a disco sandwich, stuffing “Get Down on It” between the start and close of the tune. Cheese has been performing their fair share of cover sets over the years, including KC and the Sunshine Band at last Summers’ Lock’n Festival. The little nuances of other artists they sprinkle into their own songs inevitably lead to all-out covers, and they’ve got KC down, which is a pretty funny act to cover. It seemed like the appropriate amount of goofiness, but factions of the crowd could be seen crinkling their noses, as if to say, “really, this again
The sudden feel when the music stops is both exhilarating and terrifying. Phones glow and smokers shuffle toward exits. Set breaks are a time to re-charge and find the faces that always seem to get separated on the way in. And for those who don’t make it there during the first set, the worst time to hit the bathroom. That being said, this break was unfathomably long, and too long of a break can be a momentum crippler. While there was a collective influx of hope riding the tail of the first set, the second set struggled to hit such a collective high due to a disjointed song selection.
Once the band re-joined us, “Colliding” initiated a jammed out scatter-dance with glow sticks flying into the air. The “So Far From Home” curve ball felt best suited for a first set rocker, and unnecessarily directed their exploratory playing back to dry land. Both songs have the ability to kick-start a set, but seem to navigate different courses. Nershi certainly had fun with the vocal breakdown at the end of “SFFH” before Kang tore through “Wheel Hoss,” with reckless abandon.
“Until the Music’s Over” drained the energy from the previous hootenanny instrumental, once again attempting to sink the set with a song on the outskirts of their rotation. For a song that has the lyric “let’s dance like there’s no tomorrow,” I’d expect a little more energy. It did develop a nice world boogie groove before bobbing into “It is What It is;” a necessary, up-tempo shot to the legs. Following it up with the disco funk of “You’ve Got the World” also providing some long awaited consistency.
There didn’t seem to be any real direction to the set until that point, and the songs had trouble matching the crowds’ early anticipation. It was a collection of well-played tunes, some extensive and some to the point, and mostly introspective in subject. We got a mix of electrical improvisation and bluegrass, which sounds like their forte, but hey, a band can’t go overboard the first of three nights.
“Looking Glass” was a breather and entered into a darker, slower jam. “Shine” brought the set to a close with full blast collective heat, reminding that as long as they’re crushing every song, the order of the set list isn’t quite as big of a deal. They teased “Another One Bites the Dust” midway through, possibly a nod to getting through the first of three nights once again.
They returned to the stage following the encore break informing the crowd that “those last two songs lasted a combined thirty-seven minutes,” and that they hope everybody had gotten settled for the next two nights. They left us with a taste of what was to come, revving the engine for one last push through “Beautiful.”
The slick streets and sidewalks were a sight to see during the exodus, with sheets of ice getting the better of more than a few glow stick-slinging tutus and underdressed attendees. In the end it’s the experience that counts. Running amuck within the confines of the 1st Bank Center with family and friends while the Sting Cheese Incident plays doesn’t happen every day. In fact, we don’t know if it’ll happen next year. Like they sang in the somewhat forgettable second set, “it is what it is,” and it was one of the more entertaining Monday’s I’ve had in some time.