The Scene: With String Cheese Incident back in Colorado for their first New Year’s run since 1996, the air was buzzing on Saturday night. There was talk of special guests, outrageous production, and of course the constant chatter of how the boys would sound. Were they going to be on, or was it going to be a bit rough finding the groove considering they’ve had the better part of six months off from playing live?
Since they haven’t been touring much in recent years, every String Cheese event is just that, an event, and events like these call for costumes, glitter, and of course glow-gear. There was no shortage of festive attire on Saturday night and it only got better as the run went on. Sure, many say the crowd has gotten a bit younger, but the reality might be that the SCI fanbase has grown up a bit. The 20-somethings that were partying it up in Crested Butte, Telluride, and Boulder in the 90’s are now in their late 30’s and there is a new generation of fan in the house. Fortunately, for the most part, the happy, loving vibe that has always permeated the SCI community is still present and everyone was geared up to have some fun with the String Cheese family on Saturday night!
String Cheese Incident: From the first notes of “‘Round The Wheel” on Saturday, it was clear the boys brought their “A-Game” to the 1stBank Center. While the sound in the big room was full and clean, the band was surprisingly tight and well rehearsed In short, it was obvious they had been gearing up for this run for a long time, not only in terms of the production that we’ve all come to love at their biggest of shows, but also in terms of their playing.
For many longtime SCI fans, the last 8 or so years have been a series of ups-and-downs as the band struggled with it’s identity, broke-up, reunited, and now, in the safety of their home state, delivered one of their most consistent run of shows in a long time. It was a treat to be whisked back to the old days when the band slipped from the new Bluegrass tinged rocker “So Far From Home” into a personal favorite of mine, and a song that hasn’t been in regular rotation recently, “Born On The Wrong Planet.” BOTWP proved to be one the longest jams of the night and though they seemed a little tentative at first, the band soon found the groove and things got spacey as they wove their way into a darkly cosmic funk space that kept me riveted on the stage as the sounds swirled around me the lights danced on the sea of fans packed together on the floor.
A strong first set wrapped up with a pair of older favorites when Hollingsworth took the reigns for the funky “Close Your Eyes” and he and Kang traded solos before returning the group’s roots and handing things off to Mosely to close the set with a raging “Black Clouds” that proved that no matter how much electronic influence has crept into this band over the years, they are still capable of bringing the house down with one of their own Bluegrass originals. You could almost see the dust rising into the air as our feet struggled to keep up with the blistering pace of Nershi’s flatpicking but, just when I thought it couldn’t get any crazier, they gave us a break as they slowed the jam to a delicate crawl and then built it back up into one of the single highest peaks of the show. It was vintage Cheese and, when the lights came up for setbreak, we all knew this was going to be a special run.
When they returned with a 15 minute “Rollover” to start the second set the energy was through the roof and, as they moved into a smokin’ version of “On The Road,” it was clear that they had picked right up where the first set left off. Things slowed down for a bit as we all prepared for what turned out to be a monster closing run that kicked off with “Jellyfish.” Though the tune lost a bit of energy when Nershi botched the lyrics, and even called for the song to be started over, they regained everyone’s attention when the first pulsating notes of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” reverberated through the building. With fire burning brightly behind them on the giant screens, the boys nailed the classic and moved right into a classic of their own that sent waves of joy through the elated masses. Though this version of “Rivertrance” didn’t push the 20 minute mark, it did reinforce the reason why it is one of SCI’s best loved electromentals as the stomping Irish beat whipped the crowd into even more of a frenzy. Travis and Hann joined forces, EOTO style, to bring the song to a massive climax as Kang’s fiddle echoed in our ears and Mosely lurked in the darkness weaving in a throbbing low end. It was near chaos on the floor as arms flailed and smiles flashed from face to face when the songs main theme emerged from the beats.
While very little could live up to a huge version of “Rivertrance” in that moment, “Sirens” fit the bill nicely and brought us all back down to reality for a few minutes as we pondered whether this was all as good as we thought it was. A quick reprise of “Rollover” brought the set to an end but sadly the encore just didn’t live up to the energy the boys had created during the peaks of this strong show. Don’t get me wrong, Travis did a great job with “Time Alive,” but I sensed that everyone was looking for something that let them dance out the night. The Monroe Brothers’ Bluegrass standard “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” brought the night to a close and my friends and I stood there smiling and hoping that the powerful energy of the second set could be harnessed again and would last through to the new year.
12/29/2012 1st Bank Center – Broomfield, CO
Set 1: Round the Wheel, Sometimes A River, Yo Se, So Far From Home > Born on the Wrong Planet, Betray the Dark, Close Your Eyes, Black Clouds
Set 2: Roll Over > On the Road, Give Me The Love, Eye Know Why, Jellyfish > Kashmir > Rivertrance, Sirens > Roll Over
Encore: Time Alive*, Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
Notes: * Travis on vocals and guitar
Stage Presence: A-
Set/light Show: A