String Cheese Incident: Trick or Treat

sci-tort.jpgHalloween’s a time for celebrating like a kid, for putting on your favorite costume and going out to raise hell.  Many bands don a musical costume on Halloween – especially bands of the "jam" genre.  String Cheese Incident is one band who threw a hell of a party each "Hulaween," and segments of these shows are documented on their latest release, Trick or Treat, a litany of cover tunes recorded and made available to the public.

The double-disc set (it’s also available in a deluxe 9-disc version) covers what unfolded each October 31 from 1999 through 2004, and delivers a delightful, fun listening experience.  With choice cuts that range from the standard to the downright bizarre, String Cheese accomplishes what Widespread Panic did with their Jackassolantern release a while back – they’ve culled the cover tunes out of their epic Halloween shows to create one streamlined offering of interpretations of others’ songs.

Tracks like their versions of The Police’s "Walking On The Moon" and Phish’s "The Wedge" (both from 2000) are excellent deliveries – "The Wedge" especially, given Michael Kang’s tonal similarities to Trey Anastasio. SCI’s buddy Keller Williams showed up in Vegas in 2003, and a few of those nuggets made it onto the set, including his "Freeker by the Speaker" and "War Pigs."

"Exodus" is pulled off nicely enough – Kyle Hollingsworth nailed the organ intro perfectly – but the vocals don’t quite have the same passion as Bob Marley (however, not many do/did, so this can be forgiven). Vocals were the issue on 2002’s "LA Woman" as well – Billy Nershi’s voice is a little too, shall we say, peppy for the song; he lacks Jim Morrison’s growl. However, it was "LA Woman" played in Los Angeles, and the crowd undoubtedly blew up the moment the song came out of the PA.

Frankly, with any cover song, vocals are probably going to be the area where a song falls short.  The musical interpretations on Trick or Treat are solid across the board; most songs stay true enough to the original version so they don’t fall flat, and at the same time have the String Cheese stamp. No one expects (or wants) a carbon copy.

There was one giant faux pas included – 2003’s "Hot In Herre," a mistake on many levels.  One, it showed up in the setlist in 2003, exactly one year after Panic played it in New Orleans. Did they really think it was a good idea to play the EXACT same song given the oddity (no, it wasn’t)?  Was it possible they had no idea Panic played it (unlikely)?  And then, why on Earth would they include it on this set? Keller Williams took vocals on the tune, with Liza Oxnard on backing vocals, and compared to Panic’s version it may be superior. But still … just bizarre given that it wasn’t really an original idea.  It’s worth listening to maybe once, but will undoubtedly be the single most skipped song on the set.

Either way, Trick or Treat is a great compilation for Cheese fans, and a fun addition to any music fan’s library.  The majority of the tracks are really good, and give an idea of what String Cheese is all about – fun.

Trick or Treat is out today on Sci Fidelity Records