String Cheese unravels eclectic harmony

Michael Lucarz

With the ever-popular “jam-band” label becoming about as clichéd as dreadlocks on a prep-school hippie, certain bands seem to naturally transcend the stereotypes of incessant touring, parking-lot Shakedown Streets and herbal merriment that many fail to look past these days.

Fortunately, for those who know where to look and listen, String Cheese Incident keeps its grassroots and brings it all back home both in the studio and on the road with the release of “Untying the Not” and a fall tour that includes a two-night stand at Upper Darby’s Tower Theatre on Oct. 4-5. But with the group’s recent announcement of a lawsuit against corporate concert giant Ticketmaster, String Cheese makes clear that regardless of the media hype they may indirectly generate, they’re still all about the music.

Differentiating between bands with an eclectic harmony of sounds can prove to be a difficult task, especially with so many groups fusing feedback and noise to blend any of the many genres music has fostered. But the crisp climate and mellow mood of Boulder, Colo. serves as the starting point in this tale of ski bums-turned-musicians whose diverse catalogue is outdone only by the band’s even more diverse influences.

Their vibe is as distinct as the environment of which they were born – loose, laid-back and free-spirited, with a hint of cynicism thrown in like contemporaries Phish and Moe. But on “Untying the Not,” the band collaborates with producer Youth, giving the record an eclectic feel, complete with word recitations and swirling bluegrass-meets-trance dance beats.

Perhaps this is perfectly fitting, however, of a band that has let the mainstream come to them by refusing to compromise with the sounds of the times. By experimenting with their own sound, String Cheese only furthers the independent musical spirit that has served as the group’s foundation throughout its 10-year existence.

Electric mandolin, violin, viola and vocal duties can all be accredited to Michael Kang, the band’s resident virtuoso and chief songwriter along with his consummate guitarist, bandmate Bill Nershi. Accompanied on keys of all sorts by Kyle Hollingsworth, the group breaks the mold of the traditional guitar-bass-drums-vocals format, allowing for seemingly unparalleled textures and harmonies that ring clean and clear throughout “Untying the Not.”

And as if the task of following up an experimental new record with a major tour isn’t enough, the group has announced its newest and unquestionably most daunting task: an all-out assault on concert goliath Ticketmaster for alleged anti-trust violations. String Cheese and its own ticketing agency, SCI Ticketing, have sued the corporation for not allowing the band to sell tickets directly to fans, who instead are mandated to pay the service charges inherent on nearly every stub purchased through Ticketmaster.

While larger hands like Dave Matthews Band and Phish keep a tight reign over their own merchandise, ticketing and distribution companies, many feel that String Cheese doesn’t quite have the same pull. However, unlike the infamous Pearl Jam-Ticketmaster conflict of the mid-’90s, String Cheese is approaching the situation differently and with a more diplomatic disposition, and an agenda based upon the undeniable fact that fans cannot get their hands on tickets as easily as they once could through SCI Ticketing. With String Cheese exploring new avenues within the studio and the road, long-time fans who may not be accustomed to the changes can still rest assured that the Cheese are keeping it real in every respect that matters.