The String Cheese Incident: Gravity Games (Relix Revisited)
With the String Cheese Incident in motion on its Roots Run Deep tour, today we’re sharing this piece that originally ran in the December-January 2004 issue of Relix.
Taut, imploring index fingers are thrust heavenward on this temperate Boston Saturday afternoon in October, appealing for manna in the form of a spare ticket or two. A garish blend of homemade signs also predominates, a bounty of exuberant penmanship and poor punmanship, exhorting passerbys to part with any extras. As turnstiles open and the designated starting time approaches, bustle begets frenzy as a swirl of limbs pushes forward with one collective intent…to get into Fenway Park in time for opening pitch of game three of the American League Championship Series. Red Sox vs. Yankees. Pedro vs. Clemens.
This tableau recurs, writ-crunchier and with a merciful modicum of “Cowboy Up Sox!” t-shirts at the Orpheum Theater a few hours later, anticipating the second night of a String Cheese Incident run. The fervor is mitigated slightly by the fact that as with its predecessor, the show has sold out so far in advance that some of the ticketless are resigned to their fate and off watching the game, hoping instead that a band member just might make a post-show sit-in elsewhere in the city (which most recognize as unlikely since the tour buses must haul up to Montreal for the next night’s gig- on the itineraries posted backstage this destination is accompanied by the admonition “BORDER CROSSING TONIGHT” with its “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” subtext.).
By 6:45 the pace inside the Orpheum is rather languid as the load-in and any requisite orientation had taken place on the preceding evening. This allows employees to huddle around portable radios, emitting collective groans from all corners of the theater when Red Sox left fielder Many Ramirez hits into an inning ending double play at the close of the 6th and the Sox down 4-2. Oblivious to the on-field action a few miles away String Cheese Incident bassist Keith Moseley, who sits on a couch in the band’s dressing room with an acoustic bass in his hands and headphones plugged into his laptop. A hand-drawn lyric sheet is at his feet, as he works on Pink Floyd’s “Time.”
Moseley’s four bandmates soon ascend three flights of stairs, filling the slightly cramped quarters at the predetermined time to work on the evening’s setlist. Upon arrival, Bill Nershi picks up an acoustic guitar and begins rolling through the song with Moseley, the pair trailing off every now in an effort to identify the requisite chords. Keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, who a few moments earlier had been on stage silently practicing to 2,800 empty seats, sits down and soon offers suggestions with an earnest, affable air, soon aided by the arrival of his accordion. Michael Kang initiates a quick Google search in search of the tabs before stepping in with his mandolin. The confines of the room don’t allow for rehearsal gear so drummer Michael Travis sits back and bobs intently as the four run through the song. There is comfort and ease to their exchanges with no one member pushing the verbal or the musical dialogue.
The same holds true for the process of constructing the setlist, itself a balance of genre, vocal variance, tempo, principal soloist, hand-drum ratio and other considerations. On this evening, the list emerges through a half-hour of discussion and digression peppered with humor and instrumental emphasis (shortly after saluting “one of the best songs we wrote that we didn’t write” Nershi bounds into some bluegrass with Travis joining in on Moseley’s bass). Results are achieved through a number of iterations:
1. Hollingsworth solicits ideas and jots them down
2. Travis takes the paper to the corner and incorporates a number of these into a second setlist
3. Kang walks over, reviews the results and kneels to fashion his own variant
4. After the band parses through 3.0, Travis grips the Sharpie once again and lobs another version into play
5. Additional conversation yields a distilled option using the opening set from the first and the concluding set from the fourth
6. This extract is then revised when Mofro’s JJ Grey enters the room and the band remembers that it has invited him to sit in
7. A provisional final setlist is ratified only to be tweaked again prior to the second set after calibrating the vibe of the room and the stage
This has long been the String Cheese way, a prolonged exercise in participatory democracy. A few nights earlier the group had taken the stage without any songs delineated in advance, a decision that yielded the occasional vexing lull. “The idea was that we would each choose one.” Hollingsworth explains, “But if that choice didn’t seem appropriate to someone then we discussed on stage what would be the best song for the next spot. Meanwhile the audience was siting there….”
Kang adds, “Sometimes we spend so much energy trying to decide what we’re going to do that we can take energy away from what it is we’re actually about to do.”
The keyboardist laughs, “What we needed was a producer on the side saying, ‘You NEED to do this song.’
Indeed, it was a shared objective to avert any such stalemates that led the band to cede control of its latest studio project to British producer Youth. The resulting disc, Untying the Not sounds little like the band’s prior releases and at times, some would say, little like String Cheese. It is the group’s finest effort.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
- Spin Doctors: If the River Was Whiskey
- Ray Manzarek, Founding Member of The Doors, Passes Away at 74
- Golden Bloom "Flying Mountain"
- Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Doheny Blues Festival
- Video Premiere: Anna Bergendahl "Fun"
- Electric Forest’s King and Queen
- Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers "Friend of The Devil"
- Grateful Dead’s Morning Brew and Drop Dead Dark Roast
- Interlocken Festival to Feature Neil Young, Furthur, String Cheese Incident, Black Crowes, Zac Brown and More
- The Salvation of Page McConnell (Relix Revisited)
- Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis Tried to Form Supergroup with Paul McCartney
- Weir’s Here: On TRI, RatDog and Solo Gigs
- Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa "If Heartaches Were Nickels"
- The Final Ingredient in Dogfish Head’s Grateful Dead Tribute Ale Is…
- Stone Gossard Readies His Moonlander
- Allie Kral Says Goodbye to Cornmeal
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll