String Cheese Incident :: 12.28.04 - 12.31.04 :: New York City
As a music community loosely classified, for lack of a better term, as "jamband," we find ourselves in a unique position. The inherent nature of the musicianship, the pushing of the creative envelope, the night in and night out spontaneity, the improvisational risk taking--which can at times link masses of people, all of this places us in a rare area of the music and social world. Perhaps "alchemists" would be a better classification or label for what "we are." The true beauty, the bliss of this birthing of originality, of a newly formed, winged creature emerging from the psychedelic unknown, the vastness and emptiness of space and place, is quite simply; Creation. Beneath it all is a more critical, primordial concept of being, of living in the present moment. At some level we are all a collection of our past experiences, our present circumstances, and our future hopes and fears. The eternal present is truly a magnificent blend of all of the above. However, really "being" is letting go – letting go of the past and future and just simply existing in the NOW. This is the righteous gift of our music community – this is the righteous gift brought to us by the String Cheese Incident.
Bill Nershi :: 12.28 :: Theater at MSG
This state of mind, of being, puts "us" (yeah that means YOU too!) in an advantageous position to be more conscious of our surroundings, our environment and most importantly our actions. It is only by conscious action that we can bring about change in our selves and then resultantly, the outside world. Conscious beings vibrate at a higher level of understanding, and thus, the waves emitted have a greater amplitude and crest. At its essence, this is the underlying principle of Buddhist philosophy: inner enlightenment first to then ripple out and affect others around you. Music too at its core operates by waves and vibrations so it only makes sense that the medium can have a dramatic impact on humans and thus revolutionary properties as well. At its core, its essence, SCI creates a space where letting go means learning to love, being compassionate - "Be Here Now," but be here with a social consciousness and mindful presence.
12.28.04 :: THEATER AT MSG :: NYC
Armed with this philosophy, a fistful of tickets, and my camera, I ventured solo downstate to the Big Apple to ring in 2005 with old and new friends, and of course, SCI. First up was a two night run at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, beginning with a stellar Tuesday night performance. The gig on December 28, would prove to be a more than ample smattering of all the styles and eclecticisms of the Cheese. The boys sounded polished, coming off some recent time in the studio, as they kicked the festivities off with keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth's "Missing Me." A curious choice but the non-statement opener was a statement in and of itself, SCI saying, "We're here, laid back, and we're gonna do our groove thang." Now let me state that no Kyle song is ever a poor decision, and I honestly believe he is one of the greatest singer/songwriters on the scene. The ode to lost love kicked up nicely as they settled into a tight jam, the rolling bluegrass tune "Sittin' On Top of the World" eventually emerging, continuing with the "Now she's gone" vibe. A fresh rendering of Hollingsworth's "Bam!" got the crowd fully engaged and ended the opening three song segue.
SCI :: 12.28.04 :: Theater at MSG
Clearly, SCI's wavelength has been picked up by many, the Grateful Dead scene coming first to mind. In fact John Perry Barlow and Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia are often seen at Cheese shows. Last time SCI played the Theater at MSG on Halloween 2001, Barlow served as emcee, masquerading as the spirit of Walt Whitman. Barlow is most famous for penning many of Dead guitarist Bob Weir's songs, including some personal favorites "Estimated Prophet," "Black Throated Wind," and "The Music Never Stopped." Barlow has also collaborated with SCI's mandolin/fiddle guru Michael Kang on "These Waves" and the heavily played "It Is What It Is." On this night near the end of 2004, not so far removed from Ground Zero, 9/11/01, and today's nonsensical war and natural disaster of epic proportions, the very rare "These Waves" was a wonderful first set treat. Though not as tight as older versions, Kang's vocals were downright beautiful, matching the avid surfer's tune:
Kang :: 12.28 :: Theater at MSG
"So I grow old/ Is it true that I grow wiser/ I don't know/ They say fortune is a miser/ But there's one thing that's for certain/ It's that life is fair/ You'll have your share of trials/ You'll always catch your share of these waves/ Between pleasure and pain/ These waves/ Come and rock me once again/ Will I ever stop riding these waves?"
SCI would again dip into the Kang/Barlow bag in the second set with "It Is What It Is." I have mixed emotions about this later tune - it seems as though I hear it at every other show I go to. While part of me goes "Ohh" with a nonchalant head nod, the stirring jam, however, never fails to rouse high emotion and furious boogeyin'.
The highlight of Set I would be Hollingsworth's "Close Your Eyes." This song challenges the listener to "Close your eyes and look inside and see what you can find/ Open your mind and take the time to learn from the soul," and is perhaps one of the band's most enduring lyrical offerings. The jam was indeed an exploration of consciousness with thick grooves, trippy keys, all over a top flight Billy Nershi acoustic guitar solo. I remember looking over at a new found friend next to me and muttering, "This is why I see Cheese!" The lights matched the mood, dark and haunting, then bold and bright as the dancing crowd reached fever pitch. The mammoth energy level would be maintained as SCI would close the set with a sizzlin' "Little Hands" > "Dudley's Kitchen." The segue between these would unfold like evolution itself, beginning with the Big Bang of Kang's frenetic, devilish fiddle work as the pace quickened, climaxing into the slow crawl of microorganisms at the breakdown of "Little Hands' and then swerving and meandering like the stream of life as the music peaked again with the Nershi guitar riffs of "Dudley's Kitchen."
Bill Nershi :: 12.28.04 :: Theater at MSG
Set II would kick off in grand fashion as Nershi led the audience in a "Groop Hoot" to be sure we were all "tuned to the same harmonic frequencies." More Kyle as "Boo Boo's Pikanik" got the set off to a strong bluegrass start. This offering, along with Set I's "Bam!" and "Yo Se" are all songs off Hollingsworth's new CD Never Odd Or Even. Bassist Keith Moseley's "Sirens" would enter unknown territory as the sonic exploration and psychedelic reverberations bent and melded into heavy drum and bass for over fifteen minutes. Moseley would also sneak a harmonica solo into the mix. Drummer Michael Travis would get his chance to shine with rather impressive vocal prowess as the similarly dark and psychedelic "Rainbow Serpent" slithered into the nether regions of the subconscious.
Michael Travis :: 12.28.04 :: Theater at MSG
Set II continued to prove itself a canvas for SCI to whip out some of their big guns and stretch and distort them like a Picasso painting. A majestic "Cedar Laurels" jammed "funkily" into a smokin' "Born On The Wrong Planet." Kang's vocals would draw a crowd cheer and a shit-eatin' grin from me with: "No I don't think that it could be something that you ate/ Cause I just had the same thing too and man I sure feel great." Extra-planetary exploration was in order for over ten minutes before finding its way into a near twenty minute "Texas." Nershi would again glow with this dedication to psilocybin and "a run in with the man." Nershi leaned heavily on his electric guitar, an unusual but welcome delight leaving the crowd and band panting at the end of a spectacular show.
Nershi :: 12.28 :: Theater at MSG
Before the encore, Travis addressed the disaster in the South Pacific and announced that the Conscious Alliance food drive the following evening would be to benefit some local pantries as well as those affected by "Mama Earth's belching." The encore would be more than appropriate and welcome with a standout version of Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved." Holy shit, it was all there - love, creation, giving, consciousness – not to mention funk/bluegrass/rock/reggae/groove. Oh yeah... SCI is in NYC and the fun has just begun!