On 11/3/06, String Cheese Incident's website announced that guitarist Billy Nershi will be leaving the band in the summer of 2007 "to pursue other musical projects." There are no plans for SCI after next summer. The weekend before they played in Las Vegas for what are now some of their last shows. On Saturday, they played at Vegoose with Keller Williams as Keller Williams Incident and then had a late night a show of their own on Sunday night/Monday morning.
I was scheduled to review the SCI show, but after two long days of partying at the festival, my wife was wiped out. She wouldn't let me go alone, but I felt guilty about dragging her out of our room at Sam's Town and taking her across town to the Orleans Arena, where she would have been dead on her feet, and most likely fallen asleep in a seat. Since the show went until almost six in the morning, I question whether I could have made it through the evening without gorging myself on energy drinks and whatever amphetamines were being passed around the audience.
Luckily, SCI, like many bands, embrace The Grateful Dead model and allow tapers into their shows. One of the many glorious things about the Internet is that bootlegs are easier to find. A special thanks goes to Joe Billerbeck for making this review possible by posting such a quality recording online. The clarity is very good.
From what I've read the band came out dressed like monkeys and set the tone for a fun and playful evening by starting their set with "(Theme from) The Monkees." "Black Clouds" starts off as a jaunty, freewheeling bluegrass number with some nice picking on the guitar. The song slows down when the piano takes the lead, but ramps back for a breakdown as the guitar reasserts itself with the rest of the band closely following behind.
SCI reveals another facet to their sound with "Bam," a funky instrumental number with occasional shouts of the title. After some gentle bass work, the keyboards deliver some great lead work. There is no doubt that an audience dancing after one in the morning is likely to have some assistance through artificial means. "Piece Of Mine" acknowledges those revelers with lyrics, "now you're feeling low/ got the drug to help you go/ can't sleep, up all night/ just take half you'll feel all right." The guitar is rocking.
"Round The Wheel" is built around a riff that sounds like "America" from West Side Story. It's a very sweet-sounding song with a melodic guitar that transports the listener to a tropical beach. The congas pick up the pace, and then an instrumental of almost nine minutes happens, but it's not a jam because everyone appears to play with purpose and a plan. "Solution" contains wild keyboard antics reminiscent of Keith Emerson on the bridges. As the song concludes, the drums come to the forefront as the keyboards deliver unusual atmospherics in the spaces between.
The next track is labeled "Birdland > Wheel Hoss > Birdland." The song begins peppy, then delivers a mellow funk groove that is way to slow for its own good. Ten minutes in, they rip through a fast bluegrass number filled with pickin' and fiddlin', which I assume is "Wheel Hoss." The two styles didn't blend well together at all. Admittedly, this is the first time I heard this song, but it didn't sound like they returned to "Birdland."
"Las Vegas" is a funny ode to the city. A sure crowd pleaser that night due to the lyrics that cite landmarks and mention both psilocybin being in the air and smoking fatties. They build into Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to Jungle." Although it's a nice surprise, Andy Carroll's vocals sound terrible because his singing is too high-pitched in the attempt to imitate Axl Rose. Taking a page from The Dead's playbook, "Welcome…" segues into "Drums," then a jam, although I don't know why they don't just call it "Space" as The Dead did, and then back to "Welcome…" before the set break.
The second set opens with the Reggae tune, "Shantytown," which progresses into an 11-minute spacey jam. On "Rain" the guitar and congas, the latter of which takes over on the bridge, are reminiscent of Santana. The keyboards make their presence known, and then a wailing vocal joins in the last couple of minutes as the song swells to its conclusion.
A cover of Bob Marley's "Concrete Jungle" sounds very good. It's got a smooth, relaxing rhythm before segueing into "Bumpin' Reel," an instrumental that continues to get better with each lead instrument change, from keyboard to bass to fiddle. The music of "Eye Know Why," especially the guitar solo, is another nod to Santana.
"Jungle Boogie" is another cover that misses its mark because of the vocals. They aren't even close to being deep enough. The 16-minute epic "Texas" closes out the second set. It tells a funny story about traveling in an RV with cabinet of mushrooms and a cooler full of beer, which I have no doubt is funnier if the listener is filled with mushrooms and beer.
The band encores with a couple of bluegrass tunes, and sound so good doing it that it's too bad they didn't play more throughout the night and forego some of the trippy atmospheric material. While the brief bit of keyboards on "Daryl" sounds good, I want to get back to the bluegrass.
String Cheese Incident delivered an interesting, genre-mixing set and the audience sounds like they are having a good time. I would recommend jam band fans see them while they still can. If it's not possible to make one of their remaining dates, fear not because there's plenty of material on the Web to seek out.