The String Cheese Incident 12.29.13

1stBank Center
Broomfield, CO

Words By J-man
Photos By Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot)
Audio By Eric Wilkens

It was another happening snowy evening in Colorado with the String Cheese Incident hosting the second night of their run at what has been their home court in the winter months, 1stBank Center. Unfortunately, with frigid temperatures overtaking the Front Range, there was no option of a Shakedown/lot scene. Fans made a direct line to the venue as Kevin Hahn and I collected our credentials and made our way around the backside of 1stBank through the press/media entrance. Beyond all of the familiar faces making their way through the doors, the ticketing staff, coordinators and media were all a bunch of familiar folks and String Cheese fans as well. There is no other group on the scene that harnesses the jam family vibe like SCI and that night music fans flocked to Colorado from all over the states for a multiple day celebration with the best of friends. As The Flaming Lips wrapped up their opening set, I found myself captivated by the visuals of rope lights intertwined, backed by large projecting screens. Already fired confetti canons sat idol on each side of the stage as Wayne Coyne blew his stack in a somber psychedelic fashion. It felt like masturbatory preaching and before long, it was over and the house lights came on. The lights revealed even more friends preparing for the spectacle ahead.

In the short time following the Flaming Lips' set I was given starkly contrasting views about the set and band as a whole. The stage setup was swapped out with the same rig from SCI's summer shows at Red Rocks. the home team took the stage for the near capacity show. To the delight of Carly Marthis and I, they began with dark middle eastern sounding, "Bollymunster!" Michael Kang, starting the show on fiddle, was a good sign. He dug in, while Kyle Hollingsworth played with some serious synth tones. A joke from a friend about how we were going to get a "Sometimes A River" was followed with the song itself and Keith Moseley marching in place on stage as he thumped away and sang alongside Kang. Though most of the composition was typical, the jam at the end was heavy and shined bright, even through a couple of stand out missed notes. "Rhum 'N Zouc" followed, taking a bit to get going and fall into place. Once it did, there was some cool interplay between Jason Hann, Michael Travis and Kang. What followed looked good on paper, but didn't translate well. Special guest, Wayne of the Flaming Lips, rambled about Marijuana and politics while the boys vamped in the background for about three minutes before jumping into "Okie From Muskogee." After referring to the band as The Flaming Lips, a round of solos and Wayne calling for the focus again, I tuned out.

String Cheese Incident Live at First Bank Center on December 29, 2013.

Set One: BollyMunster, Sometimes A River > Rhum N Zouc, Okie From Muskogee(1), Song In My Head, Best Feeling > Restless Wind

Set Two: Rosie(2), Miss Brown's Teahouse(2) > The Chicken(2) > Miss Brown's Teahouse(2), Impressions(2), Bertha(3), Barstool, Joyful Sound > EOTO > Close Your Eyes(4)

Encore: Breathe(5) > Royals(5) > Breathe(5)


(1) with Wayne Coyne and Derek Brown (The Flaming Lips)
(2) with Tiny Universe horns and Steve Berlin (Los Lobos)
(3) with David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin
(4) with David Hidalgo
(5) with Keller Williams

"Song In My Head" came next with Billy Nershi  leading the charge before handing off the lead to Kang and then calling on Moseley to take over. Following the final chorus, the band soared instrumentally and challenged each other to take the jam further. "Best Felling" began with a mellow grove and Kang on vocals. About half way through, the tempo changed and worked its way into an extended jam with Kyle on talkbox. The music got very funky before another change in tempo and direction. The jam opened up wide and turned towards "Restless Wind." The fans were pleased with what the boys delivered as they danced freely towards the end of the first set. The band slowed it down, then sped it back up with Kang assaulting the crowd with his fiddle. Kyle stepped up, screaming on the keys before Kang picked up his electric mandolin and shredded back to the melody.

The lights again came up as wide eyed hippies wandered in all directions from the floor outward. SCI is known for surprises and going into the second set, we were curious as to what cards the band would play.

"I'm going to do a solo acoustic set, is that cool with you guys?" Kyle inquired.

"That's Steve Berlin from Los Lobos, he produced our album Outside Inside. An amazing player, an amazing man, gracing us with his talents..." Moseley said excitedly.

"... And just to let you know, Karl D. won that sweater at a Mr. Rogers Auction." Kang said with a grin, as Travis followed up with a roll on the drums.

"This is a song about a big hairy spider," Billy said as the band launched into Kyle's "Rosie."

"Rosie" is one of my favorite Kyle songs and one of my favorite songs to receive at an SCI show! The band wasted no time diving into their set as the beat dropped and the characteristic lick rang out on the keys and from the Tiny Universe horns! The song's breakdown and solos were massive and funky and SCI made room for the raging horn section lead by Karl Denson, before Kyle leaned heavy on the wailing synthesizer. "Miss Brown's Teahouse" began with the crowd feeling enthusiastic about the prospect. The horns hit every cue with dead on timing and accuracy before Billy tossed out a short solo. The band transitioned into "The Chicken," with funky horn chops and solos before returning to "Miss Brown's." The crowd loved the addition of the horns and were obviously having a riot. "Impressions" follow in a jazzy fashion, as the band took the crowd on an instrumental odyssey through space. Alongside Karl's flute, the jam grew and opened up into a funk delight.

What followed may have been the pinnacle of SCI bustouts from my thirteen plus years of seeing the band. Keith called out Los Lobos' David Hidalgo to join on The Grateful Dead's "Bertha." With the first few notes, 1stBank Center erupted. Folks sang loudly as they danced harder than they had all night. Tears fell from the eyes of adoring fans, celebrating the collision of a couple of their favorite powerhouses and scenes in blissful music. Hidalgo took the reins for the Dead classic, with SCI following suit in a near perfect execution. David then tore into his guitar for a ripping rock solo that brought the venue to its feet. Kang jumped in and Hidalgo obliged. The composition slowed down to a sweet, beautiful meandering pace before Hidalgo turned it back up, taking SCI with him. As the song came to a close, the Colorado crowd showed their appreciation.

"Barstool" came next with Billy at the forefront, singing his heart out. "Joyful Sound" followed, stirring up the crowd after a slower number. Billy made weird noises into the mic before Keith started rapping. Following an ambient, dreamlike solo from Kang, EOTO took over, clearing the stage of the other members of SCI. It was tribal, it was somewhat glitchy and there was a dab of dubstep. I took issue with nothing other than the music and composition not being very entertaining.

"Was that a Bill Monroe song, Travis?" Billy asked upon the EOTO segment's completion.

"Flatt and Scruggs," Travis replied without a second thought.

"Flatt and Scruggs did you say?" Billy asked again.

"Yup, Flatt and Scruggs... 1953," Travis replied.

SCI jumped into a jam as they turned towards a ripping "Close Your Eyes" to end the second set with Hidalgo, Kang, Nershi and Kyle all throwing down hard on the front line. Following a short break the band returned with special guest Keller Williams to relive the Keller Williams Incident. The encore began with the title track off of Breathe. Kang added an airy fiddle further contributing to the feeling of being in a dream. Keller nailed the harmonics as the band hinted at a transition. The music dropped out and all that was left was the percussion and Keller tapping on harmonics as he began with LORDE's "Royal." While many in the crowd were excited by the randomness and relatability of the moment, many seemed disappointed by a song that could be heard on the radio at any given time throughout a day. I saw merit in both sentiments. After about four minutes and a reggae breakdown, they transitioned back into "Breathe" to close the evening.

With a cast list such as that evening's performance boasted, who could complain? I could. Many of the folks who consider themselves "hardcore" fans could. The band itself may or may not be thrilled with its output, but ultimately, we're left with an experience. I enjoyed the experience, though I found myself somewhat disappointed in the same light set up from this summer, the lack of range within the band's material and jam vehicles, as well as some general tightening up and sound issues. They sounded tighter than they have in years past, though felt as if they could use a bit more fine tuning. In the end, the scene was beautiful, the people were amazing and the show and guests were enjoyable. I left satisfied until I hit the frigid mountain air.

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