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Pop Music Review

Spirit of the Grateful Dead Lives on in String Cheese Incident Concert

February 07, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

Since Jerry Garcia's 1995 death there has literally been, as the Deadheads' saying went, nothing like a Grateful Dead concert--except when surviving members toured as the Other Ones two summers ago. But Saturday's House of Blues show by the String Cheese Incident was at least something like a Grateful Dead concert.

It wasn't just the tie-dyed, hemp-scented, grooving fans or the two long, flowing sets. Rather, it was how SCI--formed in Boulder, Colo., in 1993 and refined through constant touring--has organically absorbed the Dead's aesthetic while forging a distinct identity.

The quintet's orientation starts with bluegrass, just as Garcia's did. But SCI took its own paths from there Saturday--the second of two nights here--wandering through South African percolation, jazz fusion (Weather Report's "Birdland,"), Latin jazz, Celtic fiddle tunes and funky rock. Most important are the group's superior jamming skills, with three fine soloists (Michael Kang's fiddle and electric mandolins complemented by keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth and acoustic guitarist Bill Nershi) and fluid communal intuition.

But not all instincts were on target. Like Phish, SCI indulges too readily in whimsy (a hoedown of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile"). And for all the good vibes, a lack of memorable original songs could keep String Cheese from being more than just incidental.

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