Photos by Jim Mimna
The Scene: The 1stBank Center filled to a healthy volume early last Sunday. Smiling fans of The String Cheese Incident poured in the doors as the locally-loved band prepared for the second night of their three-part NYE run, armed with The Flaming Lips as an explosive opening act and the horns section of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and other special guests during the main act. The featured attire: Hippy-glam a la mode–a fan by any other name (or from another city) might have walked in an thought it was Halloween instead of New Year’s Eve weekend. Furry boot covers, metallic garments, fuzzy hats with animal ears, glowing accessories and glitter galore, SCI fans never cease to amaze with their costume creativity. It was a warming scene–not just by body heat alone, the love and cheer cup runneth over at the Cheese shows, regardless of the time of year. After grabbing a few tallboys we hunkered down into our designated home base and readied ourselves for The Flaming Lips. All systems go. Prepare for launch.
Opener: The Flaming Lips. A sensation within their own right, there were many in the crowd who came primarily for the opening act. The Oklahoma City based Psychedelic Alternative Rock band’s performance was commendable–but their on-stage production was mesmerizing and really popped the performance to the next level. LED lights and mirrors streamed from front man Wayne Coyne’s mic and lit up as he sang into it–it was as if the sound he was emanating was being transferred into sparkly liquid light which flowed like a river from his mouth into the foyer of the stage. Once it reached the bottom, it split into two diverging streams which flowed horizontally outward and as they neared the boundary of the stage, the light would then flow upwards, as if it were ascending into the heavens. Sometimes, the lights would change color, going from a white energy-like light into a reddish orange, taking on a more fiery effect. At other times, laser elements were added–dancing over the crowd like water, as if we were on the bottom of the ocean looking up. In addition to this, Coyne used several props throughout the evening, including something that resembled a flaming mace as well as a strange baby doll. Their futuristic brand of Glam-Rock, of course, is tailored to delivering a highly visual live performance, much in the vain of Daft Punk, Empire of the Sun or Schpongle. They even packed some confetti to mark the occasion.
The Cheesers ate it up, and those who were returning for their second night got a fun follow-up to SCI’s covers of The Beatles from the previous show (if you didn’t make it, it might help to know that on night one Cheese opened with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and then “With a Little Help from My Friends”). Just to make sure everyone was paying attention, they gave a nod to SCI’s covers with what is commonly thought of as one of the Beatles’ more psychedelic numbers from the same album: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Even if the story behind the embedded acronym isn’t true, the song still has a certain connotation, much in the way Bob Dylan‘s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35″ in a live performances always cues the production of a giant skunky haze. Interestingly enough, The Flaming Lips lyrics have also sometimes been falsely connected to psychedelia. I have heard it before, but at some point, I heard one guy yell to another, “This song is about a trip he had in which he envisioned a post-apocalyptic human race of the future, saved by a few who were brave enough to try the impossible.” Wrong. After only a little research it seems that particular song, “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” is actually about the death of Coyne’s father. No matter. Eyes were pie-wide as one glanced around the the arena. Some danced, but most just slowly swayed, marveling at the spectacle with their gaze contently fixed on the stage. The total package The Flaming Lips delivered was impressive and certainly spoke to the crowd.
The String Cheese Incident: During the break, the audience grew restless. The LED dream-catchers went up, the lights dimmed, and it was time. The audience roared with excitement as they opened with the funky, fiddle-heavy “BollyMunster. ” A crowd-pleaser with a whole lot of energy, the tune got the show off to a swinging start. After that, “Sometimes a River” into “Rhum ‘N Zouc”, continued in the traditional cheesy manner. The sound took a turn however, as Wayne Coyne and Derek Brown of The Flaming Lips returned to the stage to assist in a rendition of Merle Haggard‘s “Okie From Muskogee.” They segued into the song with a little speech about the imminent legalization of marijuana. The song has a more Folk-like sound, and the lyrics are entertaining, inspiring a great deal of local pride withing 4:20-happy crowd, though one might say the whole thing was a little hackneyed. Not all of us (even if we do partake) want to be labeled as stoners just because we live in Denver. It was amusing none-the-less. After that, they played the post-hiatus hit “Song in My Head.” To close the set, they back-pedaled to the classic Cheese tunes with a “Best Feeling” into “Restless Wind” combo.
When SCI came out for the second round, they were accompanied by the horns section of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, a mash-up that (naturally) pumped up the Psychedelic Funk factor. They kicked it off with another fan-favorite “Rosie” and didn’t stop there. They followed with “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” into an adaptation of Pee Wee Ellis‘ “The Chicken” and then reverted back to “Miss Brown’s Teahouse.” Mmm. Cheesey cover sandwich. Next, they rendered a modern, jazzy and Electronica-infused version of John Coltrane‘s classic, “Impressions.”
From there, line-up shifted again as Karl D’s crew made their way off the stage and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos came out for the Grateful Dead favorite “Bertha.” Of course, the crowd happily sang along, paying homage to the roots that bore the modern Jam scene that we’ve all come to love. After that, “Barstool” came back with more classic Cheese, and then before the set closed, the sound took yet another turn, this time crossing into EDM territory with “Joyful Sound”>EOTO Jam>”Close Your Eyes.” For those of us who are fans of Michael Travis and Jason Han’s side project, it was a nice change of pace, but some of the crunchier, old-school fans were clearly not as stoked.
Undoubtedly, many were relieved when Jam-guitar guru Keller Williams sauntered out on stage for the encore. Together, they make The Keller Williams Incident–a collaborative group that has been working together for years and produced an album in 1999. For those crunchier fans, it was a necessary return to the instrumental. After all, we did pay to see Cheese–not EOTO. Not surprisingly, some crazy picking then ensued as the ensemble performed “Breathe” (the title song from that 1999 album), which flowed into a cover of New Zealand Pop star Lorde‘s “Royals” and then back into “Breathe”–a happy ending with some old and some new. All in all, it was a splendid affair and everyone left with the same smiles they donned when they entered.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: A-