Is it even worth responding to the Grateful Dead/LMA debacle at this point? Chances are if youre reading Jambands.com, youre part of at least one music list and youve already heard every possible opinion: people outraged at GDM, GDP, Billy, Bobby, Mickey, Phil, Jill, Dennis and Deborah; people outraged at whining heads, or the fact that this discussion has so thoroughly consumed our collective community; people considering legal, economic and socially conscious factors; people quoting Garcia, mocking Bobby; people flooding torrent sites, and people thrilled about the potential return of old fashioned trading and B&P offers; people gleefully proud of taking true advantage of the archive while it was available, and others lamenting that they didnt; people boycotting GDM, and Bobby rather childishly hoping they can stick to their guns, while Phil looks like a saint by continuing to offer free soundboard releases of Phil and Friends gigs.
Rather than adding another voice to the cacophony of dissent and cynicism, this month lets look at a band that knows how to do it right. Over the past couple months Jambands.com has featured a number of pieces on the Steve Kimock Band, most revolving around the bands new line-up and the consequent change in sound. But the other side of the organization deserves just as many plaudits as Steves beauteous tone and Rodneys heart stopping, mind melting percussive barrages. It was a running joke among Zero fans, back in the day, that there were more tapers than listeners at gigs, and the taping fervor has followed the guitar hero through KVHW and the various incarnations of SKB. A small piece of technological shrubbery always decorated the front of the stage, spouting flowers of microphones. At some point Steve commented that that shrub cost more than most cars, but it grew for the love of the music. Ill even admit to listening to no fewer than three pristine recordings of the same show just to find the source that was just that much more perfect than the others. FLOK, Steves legion of fans, turned out the music will stunning speed, long before bit torrents, and it was easy enough to gather whole tours of (inter)stellar soundscapes.
Once SKB was added to the LMA, it was that much easier, but in late 2003, the band began to restrict stage taping, and soon after began to sell downloads through Digital Soundboard (www.dsbd.net). There may have been some initial grumbling, but few fans could argue with the bands desire to gain a little extra revenue (to use Mr. Weirs language) from its nightly explorations. Of course, SKB did not even make a gesture towards removing its archives from LMA, and there is more music there right now than you can shake a broken string at. Once its given, and as someone who has been part of adding bands to LMA, I can say with certainty that explicit, official permission must be provided before a band is allowed to join the ever-growing library, taking it back is nothing but poor form. In fact, not long into the DSBD era, SKB, through the auspices of sonic guru Charlie Miller, released the first of what has become many free shows, available at LMA, as way to say thanks to the fans. Since that B.B. Kings release, SKB has handed out a number of gigs, often fun, odd shows with guests, or alternate line-ups. In 2005, Steve Kimock and Friends shows seemed to flow freely down the channels.
At the beginning of the fall tour, the first tour with Robert Walter and Reid Mathis as full members of SKB, the band released a show from Dallas so everyone could have a taste of the new feast. Early in the first set of that show, the quartet makes known its potential and precision with a daring suite. Opening with the super sly funk of Traffics Glad, the unit quickly sinks into a darkly spacey area wherein Mathis, no doubt lurching from side to side with bright eyes and a big smile, cultivates stunning bass solo. There is a sense of truly freeform improvisation, that the horizon is wide and the paths could lead anywhere. As the passage draws to a close, Kimock leads the way to a sterling version of Twinstar that resolves into a swollen drum solo. After a lengthy percussive assault with band members chiming in here and there, the whole band enters a long, thunderous Bronx Experiment- the whole movement is a journey worth taking time and again, and there could be no better incentive to check out the band.
But SKBs generosity is not just limited to promotional work. Barely a week after the Dallas release, a quick email was circulated that the Philadelphia show would also be placed in fans eager hands- Thanks for helping us sell out the Philly show. This second free show is another burner, although its climax comes in the second set with a colossal Why Cant We All Just Samba? followed by groove pairing of Kickin Up Dust and a very different version of Glad. Listening to both shows makes clear that part of the excitement around the new SKB comes from the fact that both Reid and Robert are not steeped in Kimocks music, and so are taking the songs to new places and giving them new emotional nuances. At the same time, the organist has a preternatural understanding of where the songs live (to once again use Mr. Weirs language), and can play them with shocking emotion and intimacy. It truly is a must see band. But more to the point, the dual release on the heels of so much other music shows the band and its organization to be a class act. And it forces one to ask how many other bands say thanks to their public, their patrons, their fans with such a well-appreciated voice. The whole GD debacle is an opportunity for other bands to reassess how they deal with their archives, and whether or not they truly see their fan base as a community, or just a source of revenue.