Sitting here two weeks removed from the String Cheese Incident New Year Eve festivities I am still trying to wrap my mind around all that took place. Was the assortment of wearable and stationary art as rampant and spectacular as I remember? Did the dance party take place all weekend long; from the convention center, to random apartments, to the lobby at the Holiday Inn at 6am? Did the String Cheese Incident just cover Elton John and David Bowie? And even though I was there, I still wonder if it was all just a passing dream.
For two nights the String Cheese Incident, Peak Experience and Anon Salon organized one amazing New Year’s party. The Concourse Exhibition Center is a long, yet not too wide, venue that housed three separate stages. From one stage to the next one could wonder from a mostly nude burlesque show, to an electronica D.J. spinning tunes, to the eclectic S.C.I. tapping into their ever varied bag of musical tricks.
For those with short attention spans, this was a stimulus laden Shangri-la. The String cheese Incident drew most to California, but there were other acts that really stood out as impressive. Mark Farina mesmerized the crowd with his D.J. stylings on the 30th; He had the audience up and dancing his whole set while he touched upon classic beats that were both brand new and familiar at the same time.
There was also a rousing set of A.L.O. that kicked off the New Years Eve night right. Halfway through their set they did a wonderful cover of the Band’s “Ophelia.” One aspect of A.L.O. that impresses most is their vocals which were particularly strong this evening. Midway through their set they were joined by Billy Nershi, who sat in for a comical version of a song, whose title may have been “She’s a Sweetheart,” which referenced how a man’s girlfriend is still a sweetheart, even when she is on the privy. It was fun to see the collaboration, but not all that musically spectacular.
Pnuma Trio and Bassnectar also had memorable performances that headlined the post cheese N.Y.E. sets, with each on a separate stage raging till 4 am. Bassnecter had a plethora of scantly clad dancing fans on stage getting down, while Pnuma had the audience’s attention with their powerful groove. Each section of the venue had a distinctly different feel, and it was as if you could transport to a different late night party simply by wandering from room to room.
As far as the String Cheese Incidents go, the first night was musically superior. The easiest way to compare the two shows is to say the first night was a close your eyes and get down kind of musical masterpiece, and the N.Y.E. night was an open your eyes and try to hold back the drool multi-sensory orgy of entertainment.
The first set on the 30th had some highlights, but was nothing was over the top. Although the “Across the Universe” sandwiched nicely in a “Way Back Home” was a real treat. The true musical feast came in the second set.
The second set cover of the entire Round the Wheel album was outstanding, and the clear musical highpoint of the weekend. After leading a drum parade through the crowd, the band took the stage and proceeded to amaze and inspire till the set’s completion. The track list to the album is almost a highlight reel of their older and more deeply loved material. There were no floaty meandering jams here, just direct and fiery attempts on Cheese staples.
A major highlight was hearing the boys singing the humorously alien themed words to “Galactic,” which for the last few years had been turned into an instrumental. It was hard to realize the full meaning of the words until the events of the following night transpired. Overall this set was tight, focused, and on the money. The “I Wish” second encore sent us into the S.F. night shaking our tail feathers, and ready to ring in New Years in style.
As night turned back into day, and people got ready for round two, everyone seemed to dust off their “A” game for the New Year’s show as costumes from the risqué, to the elaborate, to the absurd, were around every corner.
A.L.O. was a terrific choice as an opening act. There was also entertainment of all kinds on the various stages. There were bare-chested dancers on side stages, costumed jugglers and stilt walkers welcoming the crowd as we entered the venue. There was a giant plastic globe with a mermaid inside. This was the tip of the iceberg. The eye candy was everywhere, and everyone there feasted to their hearts content. The side attractions and costumes were experiences that words do no justice for, and as a writer that is fact that is hard to admit.
The New Year’s Cheese show started with the hyper paced “Cant Stop Now” that blasted us quickly into the first set. A keyboard heavy “Bam!”was sandwiched around a funky Herbie Hancock “Rock It” jam that had us grooving hard. It was oozing with funky goodness, and the audience was eating it up. The “Close your Eyes>Rocket Man>Close Your Eyes” was also a rare treat. The “Close Your Eyes” was its typical musical meltdown, but once the familiar Elton John classic “Rocket Man” kicked in we were in awe.
A theme relating to space started to emerge with the choice of covers, but once the New Year’s surprise kicked in it would all become clear. The second set started with the familiar chords to “Miss Brown’s Tea House”; except this wasn’t her tea house this time around, it was James Brown’s tea House as Billy shouted in the chorus, which was a well deserved nod to the Godfather of Soul. There was also a “Sex Machine” snippet tucked in the middle of the “Teahouse,” that made us all get on up with our bad selves.
This was followed by the biggest spectacle of the weekend. From this jam sprung the familiar notes of all things, the Star Trek Theme song. Suffice to say this was quite humorous. While they were playing this iridescently clad acrobats were twirling overhead the audience surrounded by a multifaceted tetrahedral shaped cocoon. There were costumed aliens of all shapes and sizes emerging in the audience during this jam, and all in all visual chaos was reigning supreme. I don’t know what was open wider, people’s eyes or their mouths.
After this all subsided and the balloons dropped, which by memory was not triggered by an auditory countdown, we were left guessing when New Years actually hit. From here on out it was all musical business for the rest of the set. The annual “Rollover” N.Y.E. appearance quota was met, to nobody’s surprise. The “Rollover” led to another interesting cover of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” that had Travis come out from behind the kit to serenade the crowd with his best Bowie impersonation. The set also featured one of the only guest appearances of the weekend, where Bassnector sat in to add his unique groove twists to the mix. To close the extended set they performed a complete “Black Clouds” and left the stage for the encore.
During the encore there was a “did they just do that moment?” Halfway through the extended encore of “Joyful Sound” and “Birdland” it seemed that they played the climax of “Black Clouds” jam once again. They also played “Wheel Hoss” in the middle of the “Birdland,” brought out a rapper to freestyle, and concluded the set with a “Rollover” Reprise, so anything in that mish-mosh of music is possible.
This was one of the most elaborate and over the top weekends of my life, and I would like to thank the String Cheese Incident, Madison House, Peak Experience, Anon Salon, and all of the performers who tantalized and titillated the senses for such a great time. I am ready to leap into 2007, and S.C.I. helped me start the New Year with a little extra spring in my step.