For the past ten years, bands like the String Cheese Incident have been compared to Phish and, of course, the the Grateful Dead. This doesn't mean that the String Cheese Incident sounds like either band, but only that they, like the other bands, love to spin out long jams. It also means that they share a real melting pot of influences, including jazz, country, bluegrass, and rock & roll. Carnival '99 finds the band at its eclectic, jamming best, with two discs of live music from the '99 tour season. Piano/organ player Kyle Hollingsworth, mandolinist Michael Kang, bassist Keith Moseley, guitarist Bill Nershi, and percussionist Michael Travis jam their way through 14 tunes with generous time allotted for noodling. The band covers bluegrass on "Shenandoah Breakdown" and "Hold Watcha Got," funk on "Hey Pocky Way," and jazz on "Take Five" and "Birdland." Nershi's acoustic guitar work on a seven-minute version of "Take Five" creates a Charlie Byrd meets Dave Brubeck sound that gives this classic a fresh makeover. The 14-minute "Jellyfish" is a somewhat bizarre song that about a guy with a bad hangover who gets abducted by two girls in a Saab. From there, the song really becomes weird. The group's jams, while often developed for ten minutes plus, never meander. Their vocals and harmony -- unlike the Grateful Dead -- remain cohesive and effective. It's fortunate that Carnival '99 is a two disc set, because this allows the listener a chance to soak up over two hours of improvisational jams, which must be the closest thing to seeing the band live. The overall impression of the String Cheese Incident on Carnival '99 is that of an eclectic group of musicians with great improvisational skills who have a lot of fun performing. One can easily imagine a time when SCI Records will issue discs of complete shows instead of selections from a tour year. For now, Carnival '99 will provide old and new fans with the next best thing to being there.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2