The String Cheese Incident

On the Road: 04-20-02 Atlanta, GA

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This is the first of two consecutive nights of String Cheese Incident shows from Atlanta. As such, it is the weaker of the pair, but not by much. Both have been released as parts of SCI's impressive 2002 tour documentation project of double and triple CDs released by the band's own label mere weeks after the dates were recorded. No editing, remixing, or overdubbing of any kind took place. These sets are accurate documents and budget priced to boot. Disc one of this triple set opens a mundane birthday wish introduction for the band's drummer, Michael Travis, before kicking into a startlingly aggressive version of "Cedar Laurels." Given that it was written in part by violinist Michael Kang, the tempo and key changes are fairly complex and knotty, but they give way to a trademark melodic transcendence that the String Cheese Incident has over virtually ever other "jam band" out there playing. From the bluegrass-cum-prog rock of "Laurels" comes the stolid country funk of "Got What He Wanted," written by keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth. Driven by his electric piano and buoyed by Bill Nershi's chunky, choogling electric guitar, the tune struts à la Lowell George and Little Feat, who were clearly an influence on these cats -- in a good way. The first disc closes with Nershi's burning rocker "On the Road." Guitars and basslines are in overdrive and Hollingsworth fills up the middle with a steaming B-3 before the New Orleans boogie comes to take the tune away. The seamless transitions between modes and styles that SCI makes without flaw are simply astonishing; that the bandmembers do it with precision is one thing, that they do it with heart is what makes it a miracle. Disc two has a number of highlights, not the least of which is a smoking version of "Rocky Five Jam" that showcases the nearly uncanny communication between Hollingsworth, Nershi, and bassist Keith Moseley in an intricate weave of arpeggiatic space, dirty second-line funk, and psychedelic space rock. It also contains a stellar read of Ralph Stanley's "How Mountain Girls Can Love," a staple in the band's repertoire. The electric bluegrass & roll played by SCI here does Stanley's tune proud, especially when it segues into Nershi's rambling, Allman-esque "Texas Town," which shimmers into the first rollicking version of "Rollover" before easing off into the restless country swing of Vassar Clements' "Lonesome Fiddle Blues." Disc three's energy doesn't dissipate, but it does find the band missing the mark on "Dirk," a track that usually inspires marvelous intensity and sparkling communication among the quintet's members. It picks up again on the cover of Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" that gives way to the stormy, mysterious improvisation that is "Journey Jam" before heading out into the night with "Rollover," which showcases Travis' polyrhythmic eccentricity and in-the-pocket steadiness as both drummer and percussionist. In all, it was a good night, but not a great one -- let alone a transcendent one -- as some of the other shows in this series are. For those collecting the complete set, this is a necessity to be sure -- but for someone looking for one show for a taste, try the Atlanta show of the following evening instead.

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