String Cheese: Red Rocks
Words By Zach Zeidner
Photos By J-man
As I sat in the car and endured the eighteen hour drive to Colorado, I contemplated the situation I was about to encounter. My buddy Al Gerlach and I were in the process of traveling across the country to see all the String Cheese Incident shows being put on this summer. We were to go to Colorado and see the red rocks shows and then from there we would travel to Portland, Oregon for their festival Horning’s Hideout. I have wanted to see SCI at Horning’s Hideout since I began listening to the String Cheese Incident my freshman year of college. Everyone had told me how magical of a place it was and I would have to experience it for myself, I couldn’t wait. After eighteen hours straight of driving, we made it to Boulder, Colorado. We got in the Thursday before the show and slept all day. We woke up the next day, ready to rage some String Cheese!
String Cheese Incident Friday : July 23, 2010 – Red Rocks Amphitheater Morrison, CO
String Cheese Incident Live at Red Rocks on July 23, 2010.
We prepared for the night ahead of us by traveling to Nederland for crystals, pizza, and dank beer. I could only speculate what we were in for. This would be my second Incident, Rothbury being my first. Although I am particularly new to the SCI live experience, I have listened to over two hundred shows of theirs during their hiatus; in the process, exploring each nook and cranny of SCI’s ability to jam. Al and I ended up taking the Baseline Fund bus to and from Red Rocks that night, making it easier for us to party. We ended up arriving at Red Rocks near show time. We ran up the mountain to the long incline and waiting in line with other eager fans. As people spoke of their last incidents and whatnot, I couldn’t help but think how they would outperform Rothbury. The Rothbury show was probably the most fun I have ever had at a show, a mere spectacle, overwhelming visual stimulation as well as aural stimulation. I was excited to see what we were in store for.
We finally make it in and get out spots about fifteen minutes before the music starts. They come on stage and open it up with a “Can’t Stop Now”. I thought that this was an interesting opener. It came out of nowhere but I can see where they were coming from. It was a good little jamgrassy opener that got everybody up and excited and dancing round. You could tell from the first song they needed to shake off some cobwebs. Some of the members were not together tempo wise, but towards the jam section the tune opened up. The closing of the jam, you could feel the looseness and the inconsistency in tempo as they tried to listen to each other while Kyle’s piano faded in and out due to some sound issues. The next song they played was “’Round The Wheel”, a crowd favorite. The opening was a little weak, they didn’t seem prepared as Kyle and Billy called and responded, you could feel the lack of togetherness in the band. As they proceeded through the jam, they felt each other out and Billy and Kyle made up for that intro to RTW. The bridge was a little weak as Kang did not fulfill the correct riffs in the arrangement; this flowed through the rest of the jam as Kang searched for the correct flow to the jam. Eventually Kang finds the flow and brings the jam through. Kyle saved the jam as it proceeded into the middle chorus jam, throwing down some real funky lines. The band seemed to find themselves for this jam and played it through well.
As they continued the jam they came into “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)” a crowd favorite in their repertoire of covers usually in the circulation of setlists. At this point I was contemplating the fluidity of the “’Round the Wheel” and propounded whether this show was going to be up to par with Rothbury. As the “Naïve Melody” played through, it was not that strong, you could feel the cobwebs on kyles vocals as well as the rest of the band. They didn’t seem to be listening to each other.
As I stood there I hear Al say, “WOAH!!! J-MAN!” as I turn around I see Murray and to the left of him was J-man!!! J-man had texted me earlier that day saying he was a closet SCI fan and was super bummed he was missing the shows, totally bro-ing out via text message. He explained one of the best nights of his life was the SCI show at Rothbury. As I screamed and freaked out cause he miraculously (or sould I say murray-culously) got to the show; I was so happy to see him, it overwhelmed the disappointment I was feeling for the show. As we talked and got down to the Naïve Melody, Murray began with the rounds of beer. Lets just say when Murray is in the house, scwhill tour is on!
As SCI jammed on, the jam after “Naïve Melody” was great and they went right into “Lonesome Fiddle Blues”. As Billy jammed, you could feel the rustiness of not playing with the guys in a while, he was lagging on the tempo, and nobody was prepared for the tradeoffs of solos and each seemed to be caught off guard. The tempo struggled throughout the tune. As the jam progressed to the dub portion of the arrangement, the tempo was slowed and they each jammed well with the space. The reprise of the jam was awesome as Kyle destroyed the organ and took the reprise where it needed to go, thank cheesus for Kyle. Billy seemed to progress through the jam as he brought the tune back around with the right tempo, not lagging at all. The next song was “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh. I am not too familiar with this tune, so I couldn’t say whether it was pulled off with grace; however, I felt the jam was alright, nothing mind-blowing. After that they went into “Close Your Eyes”, a Kyle tune. The jam during this was nice as they each explored the space they provided for each other.
They actually seemed to be listening and playing with each other in this jam, it was refreshing to hear that for an entire song. The next tune was “Best Feeling”, this jam was executed well, no complaints. The jam into “Outside Inside” was well executed and made the end of the set pleasurable. I was not entirely happy with the way the first set went. But that’s always why there’s a second set, so I thought we’ll see what they bring to the table in the next set.
They opened the second set with “BAM!”. I thought the beginning of the arrangement wasn’t executed well, but as soon as Kyle took over the jam, he took it where it needed to go. After the “BAM!”, they decided to cover an MGMT tune, “Time To Pretend”. The minute they went into the song I was unfamiliar with what they were trying to pull off, it sounded horrid. The sampled tones didn’t come off well, none of the musicians on stage could jam to the arrangement and Travis’ vocals were far from pleasurable. At this point I turn to everyone around me and say, “What the HELL is going on?” This was absolutely horrible, and then out of nowhere they go into “White Freightliner Blues”. WFB is one of my favorite bluegrass covers by them. They definitely shined the most during the bluegrassy tunes, that’s when I felt they were most together in their playing... back to the roots...
After the WFB, I was distraught. The MGMT cover was absolutely horrible and I loved the WFB because not only of its placement in my preferred repertoire, but because of the execution of the song. I thought, “What are we supposed to just forget about that MGMT cover?” and they prepared for the next tune. I was somewhat unhappy with the progression of the show thus far and could only hope the second set would pick up. As they went into the “Rivertrance” it sounded pretty good, the composed section was executed well. As they proceeded into the jam, Hann decided to loop these tabla beats that completely threw everyone off in the jam, Billy gave him a look like “what the fuck?”, as they tried to escape the jam. I turned to Al and said, “it’s going be interesting how they are going to get themselves out of this one.” They did not know what to do as they fondled around the jam trying to figure out how to get to the bridge which would lead to the breakdown. As soon as they got to the bluegrass breakdown, everything changed as they brought it on home and made the tune seem somewhat satisfying because they didn’t butcher the whole thing. “Song In My Head” was less than satisfying at this point. They then played” Black and White”, they killed the intro of the song, but failed to keep the momentum throughout the rest of the tune and by the time they ended the tune to bring back to the reprise, it seemed like a mess.
Then they went into a drums section which was good and eventually lead into “Impressions”. “Impressions” is a John Coltrane cover and one of my all time favorites that they do. This was by far the best jam the entire night. They were together, listening to each other, and reading each other’s playing. Each of them traded off solos well and each responded to each other’s solo with glee. It seemed the whole night that the only times they as a band, truly shined, was when they were playing bluegrass or jazz. The impressions was killer, Kyle absolutely destroyed the jam and I was beyond content that they didn’t butcher the Trane. The reprise into “‘Round the Wheel” was a little rough and it seemed like they were tired of playing. They then played a “Shine” which was great for the first half of the tune until the bridge with Billy where they kind of lost momentum in the jam and Billy draws out his section and eventually ends a little off. They seemed like they really wanted to be done. They came out for a four minute and thirty seven second encore that was just offputting. It was a song I don’t think anyone was too familiar with and everyone left less than content. The air was not cheesy that night as I contemplated whether this momentum would continue throughout the mini-tour. Hopefully tomorrow night will be better.
String Cheese Incident Saturday: July 24, 2010 – Red Rocks Amphitheater Morrison, CO
String Cheese Incident Live at Red Rocks Amphitheater on July 24, 2010.
As we arrived at Red Rocks for the second night the air was less than cheesy in my opinion. The cheeseheads I talked to that seemed to know what they as a band can do, did not seem happy. As we discussed the flaws and trials from the night prior, we contemplated whether this would continue the rest of the tour. As we walked into the ampitheater, people were dressed for the festivities of a Saturday night show. As glitter fluttered through the air and the smell of patchouli filled my nostrils I knew this show might be better. People dressed as fairies, wizards, and small critters in psychedelic uniforms began to flow into the ampitheater. It was eight o'clock, and the time had come for the incident to occur.
As we grabbed a spot in the middle three-fourths of the way up the ampitheater, we were ready for some cheese. The band comes out and everybody cheers. As they prepare to play Kang says something along the lines of, last night was craziness and they will continue the craziness tonight. I thought to myself I certainly hope not. The opened the show with “Restless Wind” and the minute they started paying you could tell their demeanor was to the highest regard. As each of them dressed nicely, Kyle in a sparkle suit, they were ready to put on a hell of a show. The “Restless Wind” was executed well each of the members trading off solos with each other pushing the tempo of the bluegrass based tune. The next tune they played was “Mouna Bowa”, a Jean-Luc Ponty original. As they began the song, you could feel their enthusiasm for this show as we began seeing seven or eight aircrafts above our head. Next thing we know parachuters are dropping from the sky first three, than five, all fluttering around in circles above the crowd and the band raged “Mouna Bowa” the song was well played but the parachuters blew it up.
Next they play “Rhythm of the Road”, one of my personal favorites. I am not too big of a fan of the lyrics but the jazzy jam that follows is what gets me hooked on this song. Billy took command of the stage as he led the jam, eventually trading off to Kyle to take over the jam, which he does jumping on that organ and completely destroying it. I was a million times happier after the first three songs this show, this show was sure to be devastation station. As Billy rambles on about the next tune, they begin to play one of my old school bluegrass favorites by them “Indian Creek”. You could feel the old school jams come out of the boys as they traded off their bluegrassy solos in this riveting instrumental piece. I was ecstatic about that bust out! They then begin to play “Sweet Melinda” after the “Indian Creek”. This is a crowd favorite, the song was executed well except there was a flaw on Keith’s microphone at the beginning of the tune but they eventually fixed the situation and the band raged the jam of the song into one of my favorite Kyle instrumentals “MLT”. Kyle lead this jam well taking it exactly where it needed to go and exploring tonal experimentations that were quite reminiscent to Herbie Hancock’s style of tonal experimentation.
As soon as MLT finishes we hear the classic organ intro for “Jellyfish”. As far as crowd favorites go, this is up in the top five. Everyone loves themselves a “Jellyfish”. This “Jellyfish” was a fun one, Billy lured us into the song per usual with his story-like delivery. As we get into the middle of the song they go into the callback breakdown, plenty of fans yelling “ALICE!!!” as the band screamed the name at us. They then continue into a funky breakdown before bringing the song back into the bridge and bringing the tune home. It was a splendid “Jellyfish”. They then close the set with a well executed “Black Clouds” that was ripe with a beautiful solo by Kyle. The song was well played and brought the 1st set to a tremendous close, leaving the crowd begging and in suspense for the next set.
The next set opened with a “Desert Dawn”. This is one of my favorite post-2002 SCI tunes and they opened with such momentum. You could feel that they were ready to rage this next set. As they go through the song I hear everyone yelling and pointing up. I look up and see two parachuters jumping out of planes and falling down. Next thing I know they have pyrotechnics on their feet and are soaring around in circles with fire sparking from their heels. As the band jams throughout the song, the parachuters shoot across the crowd as everyone erupts in cheers. It was absolutely mindblowing to have that kind of antics take place at a show. It was amazing. The desert dawn went into “Synchronicity”, I was not sure of this tune but they played it really well out of the desert dawn to take the momentum where it needed to go for the next tune. The next tune was “Bumpin’ Reel”. I’m particularly not a big fan of this song, but the execution of this song was awesome. They got into a tasteful electronic jam that had Kyle spitting mad fire for the whole jam. Kang’s delicate yet suspenseful fiddle playing made the tune build in a progressive styling. This version was far better than the Rothbury version and even though I dont like this tune, I was really impressed. The next song was a Kyle Hollingsworth Band song “The Way That It Goes”. The lyrics are extremely cheesy and unappealing, however the fact it is a Kyle tune allows the jam to take the song to the next level.
After the Kyle tune, I hear the bass riff to one of my favorite covers that SCI does, “Birdland” by Weather Report. Personally I love the arrangement SCI has done for this song. The spacey interlude, the bluegrass breakdown, the uplifting reprise; it ranks high in my favorite SCI jams. They begin the song well, nailing the arrangement. As the jam progressed, they went into a little minute tease of “Blackberry Blossom” and brought the jam around to the bluegrass breakdown, which was absolutely killer. In the reprise of “Birdland”, Billy totally spaces out and plays the reprise part incorrectly, jumping the bridge and going directly into the chorus. It being jazz, allowed the rest of the band to fondle through the chord progressions giving Billy enough time to realize where they were and eventually brought the tune home. Despite the little mess up by Billy, the tune could have been executed perfectly. Regardless, this did not slow down the momentum of the set. “Way Back Home” was then played, one of my favorite Kyle originals. They played this song well, the vocals were up to par with the jam and they executed the composed sections as well as they jammed it out. Hann threw in an extremely tasteful talking drum solo that was tasteful and gooved well with the jam. I thought to myself, “see what happens when we don’t use computers”. The band sounded so together at this point; like a completely different band than the night before. I was blown away.
As I spaced out looking at the beautiful amphitheater around me, I hear the beginning into riff to one of my all time favorite SCI songs, “Johnny Cash”. Billy executes this song phenomenally, making up for his little mishap in “Birdland”. As they continued through the song, they built the drive of the jam and eventually got going and transitioned right into Hava Nigila. Now anyone who knows me will tell you, I like myself some Klezmer music; but to have Hava Nigila be busted out in the middle of one of my favorite SCI songs... I freaked out. I began dancing the Horah and singing the lyrics, as everyone around me joined in on the Horah they brought the jam back into “Johnny Cash” perfectly and jammed it out right till the end with perfect momentum, they completely killed it. The intro to “Rollover” than began and I knew we were in for quite a “Rollover”. “Rollover” is a crowd favorite that cheese fans can’t get enough of. They executed the composed portions phenomenally and Kang sounded great. The jams elaborated throughout the song and took everyone to the ends of the universe and back, old school style. The reprise of the song caught one or two of them off guard and there was a little mistake in the composition, but nothing too noticeable in the realm of the fourteen minute song. After this tune I was in complete awe. I was content that the show was not a repeat of the night before and I was completely blown away by the antics provided by the band. SCI pushes the visual experience at the show, the overload on the senses really puts the show on another level.
The encore began with “How Mountain Girls Can Love”, a bluegrass original that SCI always loves to play. They played this with ease as Billy had a grin from ear to ear, with a look of job well done. After they killed the “Mountain Girls”, they went into “Texas”; another one of my favorite SCI songs. They absolutely nailed the tune, executing the arranged parts as well as the jam that provided a well rounded encore to end a fabulous night of music. Each of the members traded their last solos with ease as if they finally found their niche in their hometown. The show was absolutely phenomenal. I was completely blown away, it seemed as if another band had showed up that night to throw down at red rocks. This was not the SCI from the night before, this was the SCI from Rothbury I remembered.
String Cheese Incident Sunday: July 25, 2010 – Red Rocks Amphitheater Morrison, CO
String Cheese Incident Live at Red Rocks Amphitheater on July 25, 2010.
As we entered the lot, the air was much more cheesy than the night before. After a spectacular show everyone was ready to rage some more Cheese. As we entered the venue, I was thinking how they would be able to blow last night out of the water. The lights dropped and the band came onstage, ready to rage. After a small introduction from Jack Mento, the crowd and band shared a Happy Birthday for Jack and the band began to play.
They opened with a strong “Come As You Are”. This is a great tune with a very danceable calypso rhythm and is always a great opener. They executed the composed section well, everyone just together on the rhythm and beat of the tune. The jam was great, it got real spacey while Kyle laid down these keyboard parts that allowed Nershi and Kang to do some great call and response while Hann and Travis laid down some great rhythm section, Kyle took the jam to the next level, really bringing an energy for the band to work with. I knew then, we would be in for quite a show tonight. They went right into Little Hands, this is a beautiful song that I both enjoy the lyrics of and absolutely love the jam. The jam is full of beautiful tradeoffs and increasing tempos and rhythms that bring the song to the pinnacle of what cheese can do when it comes to a beautiful jam. The song started out phenomenally as Kang and Nershi traded off vocals and the rest of the band laid down some great rhythm to sing over. As the tune progressed, you can tell how ready they were to kill this one. As each interlude took the audience to another level between each vocal phrase, they sounded so tight as a band. Kyle lead the 1st portion of the jam and absolutely spit of some beautiful fire. Laying down some classical lines, he took the jam to the next level of intensity and threw it to Nershi who picked it up with ease. As Nershi explored the spacial range of his acoustic guitar solo, he raised the jam to the next level. He then traded right off to Kang who took the jam to the final level with a beautiful fiddle solo, leaving everyone wanting more. As they explored the space in the jam post-Little Hands, you could feel the intensity grow as they progressively built the tempo and tension up more and more before busting into Dudley’s Kitchen. One of my favorite of their Bluegrassy tunes. They absolutely raged it with the perpetual momentum from the little hands jam. This whole segue was phenomenal and left me with a huge smile on my face.
The next tune was “Love Is Like A Train” which was a nice little cover that Nershi likes to bust out. The jam was nice, nothing too special and it didn’t kill the set; they traded off solos well and Nershi lead the jam nicely. The next tune was “Sirens”, I thought this version was pretty weak. They tried to do a lot of electronic effects that took away from the tune. The vocals were a little off as was the sound. It seemed consistent throughout the run that the use of computers and electronic effects threw some of the members of the band off for the most part. The next tune was “Eye Know Why”. The tune opened up with a funky Clavinet part that got the tune going. I particularly am not fond of this tune but Kyle made the song worth sitting through. Despite the cheesy lyrics, Kyle lead the jam through a great funky jazz section that brought it around nicely. However parts of the composed section seemed loose and not very tight, but despite that it didn’t sound bad at all and the jam really took off to the next level. The next tune was “Just One Story”, this was a good song to close the set. An up-tempo tune to bring the first set of the final rage to an end; I’m not particularly fond of this tune, but they made it sound great. They got into a slow section that was beautiful and spacey and the jam eventually built back up into a tremendous finale that brought the set to a great close.
The second set opened with a high energy “Miss Brown’s Teahouse”; as they play the opening riffs, 30 or so small inflatable balls start bouncing around the crowd as everybody is ready to rage the second set. As everybody got down the band sang the lyrics. As we all joined in, the energy of the crowd was high. The band jammed off this energy and took the jam to a funky get down that resulted in a “Sex Machine” tease and eventually back into “Miss Brown’s” that set the tone for the rest of the set. “Miss Brown’s” eventually went into “Rain”. The “Rain” intro was strong and the transition was well executed. I am not a big fan of “Rain”, and this version was nothing special. I was neither blown away nor disappointed with the tune. “Rain” jammed right into one of my favorite Kyle instrumental tunes “Boo-Boo’s Picinic” which was executed well. Kyle seemed to make a couple mistakes, but due to his incredible musicianship, was able to finagle a way to make it work in the jams and raged the end of the tune in a very ragtime style with Kang taking the jam home with his fiddle solo. Kyle brought the tune to an end with its catchy chorus line, this was indeed the highlight of the second set thus far. The next tune was “Joyful Sound”, again I’m particularly not a big fan of this song and is probably my least favorite Keith Mosley tune. However, they raged this song well and I was getting down by the end of it. The intro was smooth and had a very electronic style. They eventually got into this funky jam that Kyle lead and you couldn’t help but dance to, they got into this modern hip-hoppy jam that was filled with great percussion while Kyle dropped mad tones. I was left content and satisfied with how the “Joyful Sound” was executed, especially for a newer school jam.
“Piece of Mine” was the next song, this may be my least favorite SCI song played. I was not particularly raging during this song. Another Kyle tune, filled with cheesy unappealing lyrics that draw no one into the tune. The jam was alright, it could not take away from the weak aspect of the composition itself. However, the next song made up for it. As the whole amphitheater went dark, the chords for “Lands End” began to play. This is by far my favorite SCI tune and also the first SCI tune I was introduced to. The 23 minute long jam was filled with slow melodic lines that took me to the moon and back as I felt the Colorado vibe that I feel SCI gives off so well in their music, especially this tune. The band had hula-hoopers on stage that danced to the song. As the Lands End reprise began the energy in the crowd built and built, eventually climaxing to an utmost explosion of happiness. I was smiling hardcore after this rage and couldn’t have been happier. After “Lands End”, they covered “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas. They nailed this cover both vocally and instrumentally with a great little jam in the middle that did not disappoint. Not the best choice for a cover, but they did kill it. To finish the last set of the Red Rocks run, they played “On The Road”, one of my favorite little SCI tunes. Kyle completely killed the jam whilst he beasted on the organ and brought the show to a closer.
As we cheered for an encore, I was much more content with how the past 2 shows had gone than the first night. Yes there were a fair share of mess-up and a fair amount of space in certain people’s faces, but all in all I was happy with the way the boys were playing. They came out and thanked the crowd then played a wonderful rendition of “Midnight Moonlight” that was just perfect for the situation. As they all traded licks and solos you could tell how much Billy loved to jam that bluegrass. Then to end the night they played a heavy “It Is What It Is”, this is one of my favorite SCI songs and it really had a great execution throughout. The intro was well played as were the lyrical interludes. The jam was heavy and hard-hitting really showing the crowd what SCI came to do. They took the jam to the final level of the evening, putting everyone on the edge before bringing the tune around to the bridge and ending it on a hard hitting close. It was refreshing and a tremendous end to a great show.
All in all, the band had some rough points throughout the weekend. The Friday show was not up to par with what the band can do, and the band themselves knew that. Many of the true fans felt that and were not happy with what was being brought the first day and that took away a lot from the weekend. Then they come out Saturday and just blew everything apart. There were fairly few mistakes and overall an intense spectacle that only could be brought by The String Cheese Incident on a beautiful moonlit night. The air seemed to be cheesy after that and Sunday the band came out with the same momentum. There were fairly more mistakes on Sunday than on Saturday, yet despite the technicality of their songs the jams sounded great. The band seems to be playing very well together. When they would get into the old school bluegrassy and jazzy jams the band members seemed to respond well with each other. Kyle seemed to be on point taking each of the jams where they needed to go and dominating a good portion of the face melting. However, overall the rhythm section sounded phenomenal. The amount of time Michael Travis and Jason Hann have spent together on EOTO tour is evident in their playing. They are much more together and much better at reading each other. A certain chemistry has developed between them that has perpetuated a relentless rhythm section in SCI that is unstoppable.
Billy indeed had some space in his face, forgetting lyrics and parts of songs he was in (such as Birdland and Rollover) but overall when it came down to it, Billy raged his parts. Kang sounded great, he really has perfected his Trey tone well and is delivering top notch playing on guitar, mandolin, and especially fiddle. Keith was laying down the lines that drove the whole pursuit. He was keeping the groove well and it seems playing with Jeff Sipe and Gipp Droll has really brought him along. The weekend had its ups and downs but overall it was a great time and I couldn’t be more excited for Hornings.