The String Cheese Incident

On the Road: 04-19-02 Birmingham, AL

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After the triumphant Ryman Auditorium gig, the String Cheese Incident headed deeper south into the Boutwell Auditorium in the home state of George Wallace. What they cook up over three discs and over two hours is a stew that is as American as a Cuban sandwich in Miami. This is the real America: country, bluegrass, blues, jazz, Latin music, African rhythms, merengue, acid rock, funk, soul, and plenty of fine songwriting and improvisation all in one gorgeously multi-colored, dripping stew of a monster with five heads from Boulder, CO. While each of the shows in the On the Road series is supposed to give a lengthy snapshot of the band doing what it lives to do for a budget price, a few of the sets in the series do that better than the others. This is one of those evenings. The members of SCI pull out all the stops while remaining firmly within the grasp of what the music itself demands, whether playing their own song-accented material such as "County Road Blues," "Long Gone," and "Way Back Home," covering some forgotten or well-remembered bit of Americana such as Peter Rowan's "Sweet Melinda" or the traditional "I Know You Rider," or tackling longer, looser, more improvisationally oriented material such as "Miss Brown's Teahouse" and "Way Back Home" next to the radical rearrangements of "Rivertrance" and "Pretty Polly" or the invented-on-the-spot "Ham Jam." The reason that these musicians can stretch out and play for long periods of time, turn a bluegrass tune into a Cuban jazz bolero, or play funk & roll with the same authenticity as Booker T. & the MG's is because they treat each musical structure or song figure as if it were a sacred text that could reveal something to them in the process of playing it well. They also are irreverent and self-deprecating enough to have a good time feeding off the demanding adoration of their audiences. They also infuse all of their playing with honest emotion over chops, something that no one except the Allmans and the Gov't Mule cats seem to understand. Over the course of three CDs, this Birmingham show reveals that SCI is one of the most -- if not the most -- exciting improvising roots music band in America right now. This is such a smoking show from beginning to end that its details are superfluous. Just buy it.

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