“Home for New Year’s,” said String Cheese Incident bassist Keith Moseley at the 1stBank Center early Saturday night. Calling it the “Hometown Throwdown,” it is the first time the band has played a Denver-area New Year’s run, and the first time the band has played New Year’s in Colorado since 1996, when they played in Telluride.
Given that the band got its start playing shows at ski areas, and that Colorado has, until recently, been low on snow, perhaps it was only fitting that the gang kicked off their hometown run with “Round the Wheel,” and its lyrics “Been waiting for the snow to fall and cover us all.” Michael Kang’s mandolin runs danced nimbly around Bill Nershi’s acoustic guitar licks, while on the mid-song jam, keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth took over, driving the jam with equal parts funk and trance fills.
SCI really took flight on “So Far From Home.” The song has always been kind of a filler tune, but the band reworked it for this run, playing it at twice the usual speed, and Kang’s fierce, fiery, distorted electric mandolin explorations gave extra gravitas to the chorus and bridge. The song-ending jam led into a funky version of the classic “Born on the Wrong Planet,” which Nershi led with a brilliant flatpicked guitar solo.
Closing the first set with “Black Clouds” seemed to bring things full circle with “Round the Wheel,” and promised much for the second set. The mid-song jam was tight, with Kang again driving the jam. The synchronization of the flashing lights with the lyrics, “Thunder clappin in the treetops, sparks, shoot out in the night,” was a nice touch.
With String Cheese, a show can often be about riding out the valleys for the incredible peaks. The second set was a good example. After a long setbreak, the band returned with the intricate “Rollover,” which has multiple parts that seem like a strung-together jam. Instead of rolling into the last chorus, Nershi turned the jam toward a fierce “On the Road,” which kicked the second set into high gear.
However, the next two songs, especially “Give Me the Love,” dragged, and it wasn’t until Moseley’s bass bounced out the first few notes of “Jellyfish” that the set really took off. Nershi’s acoustic strumming had a flange effect added to further stress the roots of the hangover-inspired song.
As the last notes of the jam faded away, Kang launched into the opening riff of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” eliciting a roar from the crowd. Cheese has never shied from trying out classic rock songs, though they have had mixed results, such as the band’s too trancey take on Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” The Zeppelin cover was much better, except for the thankfully brief foray into dubstep at the end, with the weight of Moseley’s bass playing shaking the rafters at the 1stBank Center. The lighting engineer had fun by flashing an image of a stack of bass speakers on the screen behind the band.
After a long, rave-like take on the instrumental “Rivertrance,” Kang brought the second set full circle, making it seem like each set was its own story, by driving a mandolin jam out of “Sirens” into the final chorus of a joyous “Rollover.”
The show closed with a quick foray to the band’s bluegrass roots, with a fun take on the classic tune “Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.”
Set 1: Round the Wheel, Sometimes A River, Yo Se, So Far From Home > Born on the Wrong Planet, Betray the Dark, Close Your Eyes, Black Clouds
Set 2: Rollover > On the Road, Give Me The Love, Eye Know Why, Jellyfish > Kashmir > Rivertrance, Sirens > Rollover
Encore: Time Alive, Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms