The String Cheese Incident 7.23 & 7.24.16
Words By Mitch Melheim
Photos By Coleman Schwartz
Saturday July 23, 2016:
My buddy was raving about this brewery called Block 15 Brewery in Corvallis that we had to stop at on the way. Good decision. They had some of the best beer I’ve had in this hop-addicted state and great food to go along with it. They explicitly serve only fresh hops and it makes for an unrivaled fresh taste. My favorite was the Sticky Hands Hop Experience Ale. Advertised as featuring ample additions of sticky, resinous, lupulin-packed hop buds grown in the Pacific Northwest with an aromatic blast of citrus and dank herbs, it tasted exactly like a green hit of “dank herb” to borrow their terminology.
Despite leaving with ample time before the show, we arrived at the last second and in a hurry. Big surprise there. Being used to it, we handled it like champs and after a quick stop at the Airbnb were ready to head to the venue. That’s when things got a bit more complicated. Unbeknownst to us, Eugene doesn’t have Uber or Lyft services. Not a big deal, but it can sure throw a wrench in your plans thirty minutes before showtime. After some unsuccessful calls to local cab companies, my wonderful photographer decided to take one for the team and be the designated driver for the night. Thanks Coleman.
Arriving at the Cuthbert Amphitheatre just as the show was scheduled to start, it was a pleasant surprise that the band took into account how unorganized we all are and waited an extra fifteen minutes to take the stage. When first arriving to the Cuthbert, you see no ampitheatre at all. The only thing in sight is the river and a bunch of trees sprawled about a beautiful green space. You then get to the gates and still without having seen the amphitheatre, enter the venue and walk around some more trees until finally confronted by an absolutely gorgeous amphitheatre.
Exploratory from the start, a fifteen minute “Shine” kicked off the show while Eugene sun was still shining. A funky portion of improv near the end of this song got me excited, but overall the daytime vibe and low volume from where I was standing in the amphitheatre proved too mellow for me so I walked down the grassy hill towards the stage.
The quirky tune “Missin’ Me” reached a climactic peak from keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth before segueing into the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica.” Ever since learning that “Jessica” was actually written as a tribute to two-fingered Gypsy Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, the intervals in the song always stick out to me and Cheese does a good job of maintaining those intervals throughout the jam while still keeping it interesting for almost nine minutes.
So far a jam-heavy and vocally deprived show, that changed with guitarist Billy Nershi’s soft rock ballad “Farther.” Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” followed and led by some funky Kyleboarding, had me dancing the hardest I had at that point and revived the energy with great setlist placement. The first electro-Cheese of the night appeared with a fantastic synth solo from Hollingsworth that faded into a funk jam led by Nershi and then multi-instrumentalist Michael Kang, playing electric mandolin this go around.
Another cover, Peter Rowan’s “Sweet Melinda” was next and featured some jazzy playing from Nershi before Kang took us into space. Keith Moseley’s bass and the drumming duo of Michael Travis and Jason Hann led the next section before Hollingsworth came to give the jam a decided direction. The direction was funk and the rest of the band picked up and threw down as they segued into Kool & the Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging.” While fun to dance to, I felt the cover lacked the punch a classic funk song of its stature should’ve had.
Hollingsworth’s dancey electro-funk tune “Colliding” followed and didn’t disappoint as he turned the amphitheatre into a dirty, dark rave basement for a few minutes as the sun had officially gone down and Andy Cass‘s visuals began to take effect. As Hollingsworth was working his synth like nobody’s business, Kang teased “Another One Bites the Dust” a few times through before fully committing with a vocal tease.
The set break was quick and they came out swinging, punching me with the funk that was missing during their Kool & the Gang cover. The funky yet jazzy mystery song turned out to be the seldom played “¡Bam!” and was a treat to start off a mind-blowing set. If starting out the set with a melodica solo from Hollingsworth wasn’t enough to let me know what we were in for, segueing directly into James Brown’s “In a Cold Sweat” and then “Howard” was.
Heavy from the start, this was the darkest “Howard” I’ve ever witnessed live. Beyond the point of darkness to just plain scary. About a third of the way into the twenty minute odyssey, everything became quiet as we dropped down an evil sinkhole controlled mainly by synthesizers and vocal effects. Moseley’s bass brings us back into the territory of music, but it never brightened up the song as we continued to fall deeper into darkness.
Speeding up quite a bit before dropping back into the boundaries of the song and then slowing down for a spacey drum segue into “Bollymunster,” the dark vibe continued. This Celtic rave standard exhibits heavy use of both the synthesizer and fiddle, a combination I’m sure everybody sees all of the time. The reverberating arpeggio from Hollingsworth was delightfully funky and as much as I like to make fun of the song from time to time, I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it this time.
New single “Get Tight” came next and I’ll be the first to say that I’m not a fan of the song. It sounds to me like it should be on Pop-Country radio which brought upon an overheard nickname of Keith “Urban” Moseley for the song’s lead singer. As much as I may not like the song, it’s damn catchy and I was dancing and maybe even singing by the end of it. I won’t fully admit to the last part.
A short and sweet “Desert Dawn” followed and segued patiently into a cover of Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” featuring The Wailers’ Dwayne “Danglin” Anglin. This was one of the few times I’ve seen a reggae front man sit in with a jam band on a reggae cover and actually mesh perfectly with the band rather than take over the song. Great vocals and equally good stage presence made for a surprisingly awesome sit in for something thrown together last second during the set break as Moseley admitted during his introduction of Anglin.
After a speech inspiring racial unity from Anglin, the band segued out of “Exodus” into a spacey jam labeled on the soundboard release as “Soft Landing Jam.” Finally, some bluegrass came next to close out the set, “Colorado Bluebird Sky.” One thing I love about Cheese is how many different ways they can make you dance in one set and this set was a perfect example. Starting with the funk and then diving through the depths of darkness before an electronica hoedown, country song, and reggae jam eventually bring you into a hopping bluegrass dance. This set was mapped out perfectly and featured a little bit of everything while still managing to keep a constant flow. Beginning with pure evil and bringing you out of darkness slowly but surely before you can end with your hard earned happy bluegrass tune.
A great encore of the Jesse Stone penned, Jerry Garcia Band famed “Don’t Let Go” followed, but left me a little disappointed because they encored with the exact same cover the last time they were in Eugene. While not quite as good as that McDonald Theatre version that included the house lights getting turned on during the song before eventually being turned back off once they realized the band wasn’t going to stop playing, this was a great way to end a fun show of exploratory jams with a fifteen minute Garcia tune.
After the show, there was a variety of after party options that descended upon Eugene for the weekend. Cycles was playing at Luckey’s Club, Sneaky Pete and the Secret Weapons at Sam Bond’s Garage, Kitchen Dwellers at Cozmic Pizza, and Yak Attack with Acorn Project at HiFi Music Lounge. Even though the Kitchen Dwellers are one of my favorite bands, it was a no brainer for me that I had to go see Yak Attack. Our entire crew made our way to a packed Yak Attack show that had us drowning in sweat between so much dancing and the lack of dance room, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Yak Attack is a dance band through and through, and if you aren’t sweating during their show you’re doing it wrong.
We partied at somebody else’s Airbnb after the show because there happened to be a couple upstairs and cat downstairs at ours that were unexpected to us. The cat was a definite plus, but we were wary about bringing our group of weirdos in our weird post-Yak Cheese state to somebody else’s house for the festivities. We eventually made it back to our Airbnb, but only for copious porch dabs and sleep.
Coleman's Saturday Photo Gallery
Sunday July 24, 2016:
Unfortunately, the overindulgence was too much, too fast and I suffered from a severe case of the “itis” in the moments leading up to the show. I eventually gathered enough energy and motivation to get up and catch a cab to the show and unlike the night prior, arrived with plenty of time to spare before the show. I hung around the lot with some friends and helped other friends get tickets before making my way into the venue for night two.
“Song in My Head” started off the show. Not my favorite song, but a great opener so I was satisfied with the choice and the execution was there as well. Moseley kicked off the jam that Hollingsworth eventually took over. “These Waves” was next and provided me with a great chance to sing along to one of my favorite corny sing alongs before dropping into some of that stanky funk cheese.
The stank was “Djibouti Bump,” a funky track with a rock overtone. This song is a perfect example of some of the perfect sloppy funk, as I like to call it, that Cheese plays. A real funky sound comprised of what seems to be a myriad of musical sounds, but all come together perfectly to make your body dance and move in sporadic ways you never thought were possible.
The song sounds similar to “Valley of the Jig,” but separates itself a few minutes in when it turns into a full on electronica get down. A section of solid percussion from Jason Hann preceded the Hollingsworth led jam that featured as much synthesizer as was necessary, which was a lot.
“It’s National Tequila Day today. Did anybody know that?” Nershi says as they build up and drop into the crunchiest jam of the weekend. The jam was made up of all electronic sounds for a bit, even the drums. There’s a couple times during every String Cheese show where I chuckle to myself thinking of how bad the old school traditionalist fan must hate what’s happening; this was definitely one of those times. I loved it though and it seemed like everyone else around me did as well.
Peter Rowan’s “Midnight Moonlight” was next and brought us back to the bluegrass that the band’s name so deceitfully suggests. Kang on acoustic mandolin is becoming more and more rare these days but it’s usually a treat. Hollingsworth’s bouncey “Falling Through the Cracks” followed and was fun as his songs always are.
Another newer funk song “Stop Drop Roll” came after and I enjoyed it. The music reminds me a bit of “Rosie,” but it’s definitely more of a party song lyrically. Kang shredded a nice solo before the band segued into the “On Fire Jam,” a funky bluegrass jam that turned housey before returning to bluegrass and satisfying every part of my String Cheese fanhood.
Segueing into a Cuban jazz jam that I soon identified as “Texas,” we were then off on a fifteen minute set closing journey. A full type two jam emerged after the song and lasted longer than the actual song did.
The playful “It Is What It Is” opened the second set and brought with it a heavier jam than usual. Led mostly by soaring guitar riffs and top notch percussion, the song was surprisingly better than the last time I remembered seeing it. After the jam, they stopped for a second and returned back to the usual song structure.
“Smile” came next and kept the happy vibe going as well as my upward trajectory of dancing. Kang brought out the fiddle for a nice jam and some great hand-drumming from Hann foreshadowed the next song, “Drums.” Joined by “an old friend from their old Northwest days” Jared Kaplan, the drums jam actually took a fresh approach and avoided any electronic drums at all as opposed to the usual EOTO jam.
What came next competes with “Howard” for being the highlight of the whole weekend. The band invited guitarist Jeff Pevar of Jazz is Dead and Phil & Friends fame up for a cover of John Coltrane’s “Impressions.” Lasting well over eighteen minutes this jazz odyssey reached multiple peaks. Pevar’s sit in was the clear standout of the song and one of the better sit ins in recent memory. Transitioning through jazz to funk and spacey reggae, back through funk and returning to jazz, no moment of improv was wasted as every musician on stage was firing on all cylinders for this one.
Nershi’s “Hotel Window” followed, a sign that he may be missing his wife Jillian at the end of tour. An emotional song, Kang pitched in a very beautiful and emotionally charged solo leading the song from slow ballad into rock’n’roll. The fun, dancey singalong “Sweet Spot” came next and is just such a “catchy little number,” as the lyrics say. There’s no way you can not like this song. Drummers Travis and Hann switched places for this song and it was fun to hear Hann on a kit bigger than that tiny thing he plays with EOTO.
“Can’t Wait Another Day” started out the encore as Hollingsworth explained during the song that it was written while his wife was pregnant and is about how he couldn’t wait another day to see the baby, or actually to have another beer as he joked because he had to stay sober in case he needed to drive her to the hospital. Both Pevar and Kaplan then joined the band again for the weekend closing “Shakin’ the Tree.” Pevar provided some great harmonica to match his earlier contributions on guitar before the guitars took over the rest of the jam and then one last chorus brought the two-night run to an end.
Another great after party followed the show, this time World’s Finest at the HiFi Music Lounge. A band that’s hard to describe, I’ve caught myself explaining them to people as Portland’s version of the String Cheese Incident, but unique to themselves as they mix bluegrass, ska, jam, world fusion, and dub together flawlessly. It’s hard to say after two great Cheese shows, but both of the after parties that I saw over the weekend were great and honestly had me dancing just as hard as I was at the Cuthbert earlier in the night.
We wandered to a friend’s for the after party’s after party with a rather unfortunate mission on our minds. Due to our truly accidental and now discovered over occupancy at our Airbnb, we had to figure out how to come back to our Aribnb that night with two less people than we currently had. While this may seem like a tough task for some, I had faith that there would be at least two people in our crew with no plans on sleeping that night and luckily there were. After a couple more hours there, we returned to our Airbnb while they still happily partied until being picked up on the way out of town a few hours later. There’s a good reason we pack the car full of weirdos every time we head to Eugene and yet again, it paid off.
Coleman's Sunday Photo Gallery