The String Cheese Incident

On the Road: 04-08-02 Dallas, TX

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After the transcendent love fest that took place earlier in the week in Austin, String Cheese Incident sauntered four hours down the road to Dallas to play an entirely different kind of show for the fans there. This three-CD set, part of 19 multiple-disc collections documenting -- thus far -- the month of April, 2002, on the road, is another chapter in a saga that is, by turns, awe-inspiring, frustrating (the few edits that exist here exist in between songs), confounding (at the band's range), and daunting. The strident and beautifully lush instrumental "Indian Creek" opens the evening with awesome soloing from guitarist and composer Bill Nershi and pianist/keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth's command of legato phrasing and an arpeggiatic sense of solo construction are quite remarkable, as is the knowledge of folk forms possessed by violinist and mandolinist Michael Kang, whose "Inspiration" comes hot on the heels, based on a minor-key vamp and slipping through the needle of a deceptively simple melody into the stratosphere beyond the verses. It should be noted that when these cats write songs, that's what they do: tight, economical, and with fine lyrics. As they elongate them and make them something else entirely in concert, they mutate only insofar as the form or shape of song allows itself to. When they jam -- whether it be in rock, folk, soul, funk, bluegrass, Cajun, or jazz (a for instance of which is on Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon," a track from the Head Hunters disc) -- they take the spirit of jazz improvisation seriously, but they play changeling with everything from the dark, funky groove to rhythm to changes and allow directional turnarounds to happen seemingly at the will of the music. (And it's one of the best jams on the disc.) As for the rest of the program, the band's live classics such as "Lonesome Road Blues," "Close Your Eyes," "Shantytown," and "Little Hands" venture into new and uncharted territory. Each time these tunes are played, they become something else inside while remaining the same on the outside. The communication, from the rhythm section up, is layered, full of space and immense lyrical articulation. There is no "free" playing here, and very little in any String Cheese gig, but there is great freedom. Perhaps nowhere is this evidenced more than in the chosen covers, such as John Prine's "Paradise" or the gig-ending version of Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." Here, the lyrical and melodic structures offer the structural possibilities not so much for transformation, but for the integration of other forms into a text and therefore make a tune bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. This is truly a fine date.

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