The String Cheese Incident

On the Road: 04-14-02 Ann Arbor, MI

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This early volume in the String Cheese Incident's 2002 tour recording project offers a few surprises that became staples in the band's set later in the tour and a pair of genuine one-offs that offer a serious glimpse into why SCI has become such an interesting and compelling candidate for being the act to see in concert. Disc one kicks off with a host of the band's originals, such as guitarist Bill Nershi's "Barstool," the traditional tune "Daryl" as re-acid-envisioned by SCI, and Kyle Hollingsworth's awesome "Lost," with a series of piano arpeggios that is staggering not only in its technical complexity but its emotional worth as well. Also, violinist Michael Kang's "Shine" is a tight exercise in group dynamics and reveals the depth of the melodic commitment to improvisation the band has. The set ends with a deeply moving and rambling version of Dickey Betts' staple "Jessica." Disc two kicks off with the best version of Peter Gabriel and Youssou N'Dour's "Shaking the Tree" that has been released from the tour. The singing is tighter; the rhythmic nuances bring out the subtleties in the textural constructs between Michael Travis' percussion work and Keith Moseley's rock-steady basslines. As if a 12-and-a-half-minute performance of this track weren't enough, the band kicks out a medley of Nershi's jazzed-out reggae number "Sand Dollar" juxtaposed with the country funker "Up the Canyon" before finding its way seamlessly back. The set ends with a wild, rocking bluegrass read of Townes Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues." There is no doubt, given its intensity and the gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies, that Van Zandt would have been thrilled with this version. The final disc in the collection features a series of band tunes, such as Nershi's killer guitar & roll gem "Windy Mountain," the Michael Kang/Bruce Barlow composition "It Is What It Is," and Hollingsworth's beautiful and dreamy "Close Your Eyes," before easing out on the encore with a tribute to Ann Arbor's proximity to Detroit and its Motown heritage: Holland-Dozier Holland's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)." While the cut could have come off as a cheesy novelty -- in much the same way Bruce Springsteen's take on the Detroit Wheels medley always has -- the cats in SCI make every attempt to treat the song with as much grace and artistry as possible. And while they may not sing anywhere near as fine as Marvin Gaye, they do well in their shimmying funky way; with a sincere approach to the arrangement, they play it as a living modern song instead of as a relic. Not many bands can do that. Once again, SCI has turned the excitement of the concert hall into a riveting listening experience on record. SCI is a very special band. Period.

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