[14 August 2012]
The race is on. It’s Friday rush hour in Southern California and the crosstown traffic in LA is manically depressing as it always is on Fridays. But those on a mission to see the String Cheese Incident will not be deterred. Whatever measures it takes to arrive on time will be employed, offensive driving included. For many fans, this is their first chance to see the band in five years as this is their first California show since 2007. Missing the start of the show simply would not suffice.
The band broke up in 2007, reunited for a just a handful of shows in 2009-10, and then started to get back on the road in 2011. But this west coast run is way overdue. The band rewards the faithful with a sizzling show that starts strong and sustains a high level throughout. “Close Your Eyes” opens the show with a blast of melodic feel-good energy and the band rides that wave throughout the night. There’s a tangible sense of a beautiful cognitive dissonance at seeing these guys back in action after all this time. The band is jamming on “MLT” when they start mixing in teases of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street”, much to the delight of the crowd. SCI have been one of the top 2nd generation jam-bands helping to keep the vibe alive since Jerry Garcia’s untimely departure from the planet in 1995.
The band show that they aren’t holding back for the Berkeley Greek shows on the following two nights when they break out “Best Feeling”, one of their top jams, in the middle of the first set. The chemistry between acoustic guitarist Bill Nershi and electric mandolin/fiddle player Michael Kang has long been a hallmark of the band’s eclectic sound and shines here. It’s almost 10 minutes before the song kicks into the jam section, with percussionist Jason Hann sparking the groove toward almost 10 more minutes of jammy bliss. The crowd is reveling because it’s so good to have SCI back. The joy continues with another blistering jam on “Rhythm of the Road”, with the group clearly on fire. Keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth steps up to sing on “Colliding”, with the band digging into another hot groove that evolves into a trippy, tribal sort of jam. Each song of the set is kind of a different vibe, as the band displays their ever impressive sonic diversity. Then comes a special treat with Kang on vocals for a majestic rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On”, closing out the set with a psychedelic flourish as Kang shreds Jimmy Page’s solo.
The setbreak abounds with good vibes as friends old and new keep running into each other. It’s part of what makes SCI one of those special bands, with a whole tribal network formed around them. There’s a sense of community that is rarely found outside the jam rock world.
Nershi kicks off the second set by talking about how great it is to be back in California, calling it “the gravy” of touring and inciting a traditional “group hoot”. The band then once again demonstrates that they’re holding nothing back by opening the set with “Texas”, one of their most beloved tunes about imperial entanglements in the Lone Star State. Nershi riffs out in glorious fashion on the extended jam, followed by a smoldering lead from Kang with the whole band gelling for the “x-factor” that has made SCI one of the premiere jam-rock bands in the land. But it’s not just the jamming, it’s doing it in the context of great tunes that makes SCI one of the best in the biz.
Kang brings out some West African musician friends to help out on “Betray the Dark”, another hot jam featuring some extra African percussion and dance moves. “Bumping Reel” employs some of the tranced out electronica flavor of EOTO, the road warrior side project from drummers Michael Travis and Jason Hann. Kang has played a few EOTO gigs as well and uses his fiddle here to take the deep groove to a higher realm for 10 minutes of psychedelic ecstasy. The jam recalls the band’s classic “Rivertrance” and it’s refreshing to see the guys whipping up something else in that sonic realm.
“Sometimes a River” is another winner with its upbeat melodic flavor and bassist Keith Moseley on vocals for a cathartic tune about rolling with the times, whether they be high or low. There’s some great harmony riffing from Nershi and Kang that recalls the Allman Brothers Band, which works the crowd up even more. The title track from 2001’s stellar Outside Inside LP keeps the party rolling, with rocking riffs and a big groove that has the Greek getting down. The Allman-ish tease comes back in force when the band segues from “Outside Inside” right into The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” for another crowd-pleasing jam on the classic rock favorite.
Many fear the show will end at 10:30 pm, but Moseley announces that the band has talked the venue into letting them go later, leading to a double encore that features Peter Gabriel’s “Shaking the Tree”. It’s been a magical summer night in the City of Angels, and fans can only hope that they won’t have to wait as long as before for the band’s return.