Night two of The String Cheese Incident‘s stay at Dillon Amphitheater hit the ground running as Cheese showed off the finely tuned musical engine it’s become. After Billy Nershi took a moment to enthusiastically congratulate a couple whose wedding had taken place earlier in the day, Cheese launched into an appropriately breakneck “Can’t Stop Now”.
Slipping off the manic pace of the set opener, keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth delivered a lovely piano piece as the calypso-influenced “MLT” formed with percussionist Jason Hann doing mad work on his congas and hand drums. The Latin groove got good and hot before Nershi performed an early-set crowd check to make sure everyone was feeling it before the spacey jam swept everything else away.
The String Cheese Incident – “Can’t Stop Now” (Wendy Waldman), ” MLT” [Pro-Shot] – 7/12/23
With a dark and twangy opening courtesy of Nershi and a sweet bottleneck bluesy intro, “Sing A New Song” brought a tasty bit of blues to the mix before Cheese welcomed its first guest of the weekend, Jaime Wyatt. Wyatt, a rising feminine voice in the outlaw country scene who has a new album coming out soon, as Nershi noted in her introduction, helped String Cheese tackle the Grateful Dead classic “Friend Of The Devil”. She may have forgotten a word or two but it’s no worse than the Dead did themselves from time to time. Wednesday marked the first String Cheese Incident performance of “Friend of the Devil” since August 7th, 2021 at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, per Setlist.fm.
Next up, String Cheese showcased some of the dexterity and diversity for which the band is known with bassist Keith Mosley taking over vocals and drummer Michael Travis and Hann switching spots for the relatively simple but always satisfying “Sweet Spot”. The soaring guitar work by multi-instrumentalist Michael Kang on guitar made even this charming little tune seem grandiose and the cheers it received were well-earned.
Travis retook his drummer’s throne and snatched up the lead vocal baton for the follow-up “Illegal” with his whole family beaming with pride from the side of the stage. From there, a sweet “Sunset Jam” gave the whole band a chance to get a bit spacey before rounding into a tight and crowd-igniting “One Step Closer”. After a high energy psychedelic-tainted ending the only thing left to do was get a bit “Beautiful”.
“Beautiful” is a quintessential Cheese tune, in that it utilizes the different pieces, talents, and personalities to make something so wholly unique only these specific musicians could have written this uplifting tune, and only they can make it somehow short and sweet yet dense and intricate at the same time.
The second set opener “Texas” does such a wonderful job providing Nershi a chance to do what he does so incredibly well and that’s tell a story. It’s a true testament to the power of a tale well told that the white-haired wizard can always draw the listener in, over and over again, to a story every Cheese fan knows backward and forward.
Continuing the mischievous and upbeat energy, Michael Kang took the lead for a Keller-less “Best Feeling” that worked almost as well as it does when the court jester of the jam scene Keller Williams is handy to make it pitch perfect. A mid-set drum solo gave the rest of the band a likely enjoyable break while Travis and Hann made a frenzied flurry of beats into a testament to their power as a rhythm section that simply doesn’t get the props it deserves.
Kyle Hollingsworth got the “45th of November” started with such a beautiful lilting lead he stopped and made a note of what he had just done, laughing to himself about the fact that “That was pretty cool!” The song itself was another example of Cheese showcasing all its strengths separately and then making something so much mightier by uniting them.
United, there’s little String Cheese can’t do musically and the follow-up psychedelic take on the old world-turned-new psychedelic, futuristic fiddle tune “Valley Of The Jig” proves as much by merely existing. Few bands would even conceive of such a weird mix of Kang’s arch skill with a bow and the Travis/Hann rhythm section’s mutual love of EDM (RIP EOTO) yet here they go pulling it off to spectacular results.
After perhaps an overshare by Hollingsworth about jumping in a freezing mountain stream in his underwear, Cheese showed it was not yet done pulling out the stops with an epic “Black Clouds” that was a musical journey all its own. The set-closing “Colliding” was a fitting ending to such a near-perfect Cheese show and the giant crescendos the band built during it and the cascading conclusions were so well earned the gape-jawed audience had two choices: stand there in silent awe or cheer their heads off. The latter won for volume but there were clearly some mind-blown folks in need of time to readjust to the material plane.
After such a transcendent conclusion, time constraints and a form of musical mercy at the sense-shattering onslaught they had just dropped on their audience caused Cheese to close with a nice, easy “Smile” that was a perfect palette cleanser or, as some might refer to it, a bit of much needed “landing gear.”
If you were one of the fans with a mind to scout how The String Cheese Incident was sounding prior to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre shows this weekend your report must certainly be top marks all the way down your mental checklist. If you were a more casual fan then you got a show that was a perfect summation of what makes String Cheese one of the most revered bands of its generation. Either way, Cheese has another legendary show under its belts and is perfectly set up to make more magic in the days, nights, weeks months, and years ahead.
Setlist: The String Cheese Incident | Dillon Amphitheater | Dillon, CO | 7/12/23
Set One: Can’t Stop Now (Wendy Waldman), MLT, Sing A New Song, Friend of the Devil (Grateful Dead) , Sweet Spot, Illegal > Sunset Jam > One Step Closer, Beautiful
Set Two: Texas > Best Feeling > Drums, 45th of November, Valley of the Jig, Black Clouds, Colliding
Encore: Smile (Billy & Liza)
 Jamie Wyatt