The String Cheese Incident

On the Road: 04-13-02 Chicago, IL

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The second of the two shows in Chicago proved to be a fine gig, though not as awe-inspiring as the April 12th date -- but how could it be? On purely musical terms, there are no weak moments in this triple-CD package: The song selection is inspired, the playing is no less than crack -- you have to expect that from String Cheese Incident on every gig now -- and the fellas have their hearts in it, to be sure. Opening a gig with Ralph Stanley's "How Mountain Girls Can Love" offers something that some people forget about SCI: These cats can actually play<\it> bluegrass. In any case, they move from the mode quickly enough into funky psychedelic music on "Miss Brown's Teahouse" that features a killer vamp by Kyle Hollingsworth and a smoking bassline by Keith Moseley. Things remain very loose for the remainder of the set, with versions of "MLT," "My Way," and Béla Fleck's "Lochs of Dread." The first disc remains a real showcase for Moseley, whose bass seems to be the front-line instrument for the entire first set. On disc two, things begin to ramble into space a bit with "Magic Carpet Ride" and the "Spellbound Jam" that comes out of it leading into "Rivertrance," which, combined, account for nearly half-an-hour. The interplay between guitarist Bill Nershi and Hollingsworth on "Rivertrance" is positively eerie as they anticipate one another throughout the solo breaks. Here is a plain and pronounceable case where two instruments speak to one another as Michael Kang soars above with great bursts of rhythmic and harmonic invention on his violin. Also, the rhythmic interplay between Michael Travis' kit drumming and percussion work and Moseley is nothing less than breathtaking; they don't hold anything down, pushing the front line of Nershi, Hollingsworth, and Kang into the stratosphere. These two cats could play in anybody's jazz band. Disc three features a guest appearance by Keller Williams on "Freeker by the Speaker," which becomes a mutated jam on the changes and then moves the key signatures around to invert themselves, taking the thing way out into the field, and while visiting these planetary systems, begin playing "Rollover." After another nearly 17 minutes, they come back as far as Pluto with some banter and then go traveling again with "Jellyfish" before ripping the doors off the place with "Black Clouds." The reason for this rating is that while the third disc is as phenomenal as anything the first night -- well, almost -- and most of disc two offers a sublime set up for this charging of music heaven's gates, it just takes a while for disc one to get moving. It's impossible not to compare when there are so many great discs in these packages. So the argument is, that this is not sub-standard or even standard issue SCI, because there really is no such thing; it's more that this is a show that at least at the beginning was going after something else entirely than they did the night before, though they certainly weren't there anyway from the middle to the end.

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