The String Cheese Incident

On the Road: 04-28-02 New Orleans, LA

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What remains incredible about New Orleans as a city is that despite the sheer amount of music it witnesses in any given week, let alone year, its citizens are remarkably un-jaded and fresh-faced about almost everything, including the corny poetry read by someone named "Lester" that commences the first two evenings of the String Cheese Incident's New Orleans stand. Whew, it's bad, but fitting in some way of how this band and its audience are among the most tolerant and open-minded anywhere. Thankfully, the funky strains of "Round the Wheel" come out of the moment and offer some real musical poetics. The gorgeous rhythmic propensity that Michael Travis propels the band with along with his partner, bassist Keith Moseley, is nothing less than aesthetically brilliant. Certainly, String Cheese Incident go into a town and play their own show no matter what, but on these two evenings in the Crescent City, the focus on rhythm doesn't seem to be a mistake. New Orleans is a city of rhythm, and of all the jam bands -- as they are both affectionately and derisively known -- String Cheese Incident is the only one of the latest generation who places such a high priority on it. Here, in tunes that range from Bill Monroe's "Walls of Time" to keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth's "Yo Sé," from the spacious ribbons of sound that encompass violinist Michael Kang's "Rollover," which opens onto the radical re-reading of the traditional "Rivertrance," to the tight structure of Vassar Clements' "Lonesome Fiddle Blues," to Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," rhythm is the ground as well as the sky. Everyone in the band approaches the material on this night rhythmically. Guitarist Bill Nershi, who is one of the toughest right-handed players for a lead guitarist, feels more like a drummer, despite his gorgeously fluid fills and solos. Hollingsworth knows the piano is a percussion instrument, particularly when playing a solo, and Kang is a part of the rhythm section a good portion of the time, creating a propulsive backdrop for tunes to evolve from simple changes to polyrhythmic explorations of outer and inner space. On these two nights, all of those factors wound together in a braid of sheer focus, a singleness of purpose and improvisational invention that must have startled the bandmembers themselves at times. This is a hell of an opening night, and a very fresh place to be aesthetically for being on the road a month playing three-hour shows.

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