Rambling Onward: The String Cheese Incident Wows Philly During its Northeast Trek
After a three-year absence, the String Cheese Incident finally returned to the Philadelphia area this past Friday to play to a packed house at the landmark Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA. Any opportunity to see the Colorado-based genre-fusing sextet is a rare treat, but an evening with no openers, killer acoustics, and outlandish lighting bouncing off beautiful historic architecture? You can almost hear the rabid SCI fans screaming, “Sign me up!”.
The band melted faces faster than you can melt a Kraft single. The way the String Cheese Incident blends musical styles, not only within a set but within a single song, is remarkable. Take for instance “Eye Know Why,” a song the band has been playing for over a decade now and played that night at the Tower. The song starts off with a very Santana-like blitz of tango-infused funk, only to effortlessly transition into a much darker, synth-heavy electronic soundscape with a distinct jungle beat feel before returning to the song’s initial tango-funk vibes. Few bands manage to meld such seemingly opposite musical influences into one cohesive piece, but Cheese does it and does so impeccably.
Each of the musicians was on his game this evening. Bill Nershi picking his acoustic guitar with unmatched ferocity, Kyle Hollingsworth rocking solos in practically every style of keys known to man, Michael Kang switching between electric mandolin and violin, and hitting the sweet spot on that fiddle with every single bow stroke, Keith Moseley keeping it real with rich and perfectly timed bass lines, and the percussive team of Michael Travis and Jason Hann keeping it all together and going beat-crazy be it on the snare, the hand drum, or the old-fashioned washboard. It all came perfectly together that Friday night at the iconic Upper Darby theatre, which formerly hosted vaudeville acts in its earlier days.
We should quickly take note of the stage setup that night as well. The String Cheese Incident is known for elaborate theatrical displays during their bigger stadium and outdoor shows (such as their New Years runs and appearances at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Electric Forest Music Festival). Clearly such massive and artistic exhibitions cannot be executed in the much more intimate venues the band has been visiting during its Fall Tour. Yet the band made the stage all its own with a triangle-shaped backdrop surrounded by LED lights. The fabric of the backdrop, when hit by the lights, had the qualities of a mountainside – fitting given the band’s Rocky Mountain home base. Both this backdrop and the gorgeous architectural details of the theatre’s interior magnified the intensity of the lights and resulted in quite the visual display.
The band came back to the stage to encore with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.” It was the perfect ending to one hell of a Cheesy night. Instrumentally the band was completely on point, and though no one can match the rough, higher-pitched wails of a younger Robert Plant, Kang served up a noteworthy (albeit lower-pitched) performance in his stead. The choice couldn’t have been a more perfect sendoff. After a better-than-pleasant show at the Tower, for which the fans were of course much obliged, as the autumn leaves fell under the autumn moon, it was time for only one thing. It was time to ramble on.