The Steve Kimock Band, Richards on Richards, Vancouver, BC, 5/27
Set I: Rocco, Moon People, Rudson’s Roaches, Kissin’ the Boo Boo, Bad Hair
Set II: Why Can’t We all Just Samba, Avalon>Long Form, Poonk>Cissy Strut>Poonk, 5b4 Funk
Steve Kimock- guitar
Mitch Stein- guitar
Bobby Vega- bass
Rodney Holmes- drums
Since I’ve lived on the left coast for the last two years Steve Kimock and I have crossed paths several times, or maybe I should say he’s crossed my path. A transplant from Chicago, I had in my five years living in the windy city seen Mr. Kimock exactly once, as a member of the on-again, off-again band Zero back in 1998. My taper friend Jason had grown on Kimock at the time and had chewed my ear off on more than one occasion about him. Eventually he dragged me out to the CubbyBear to hear the man play for myself. That night changed me, and the unique tone and warmth of Steve Kimock’s guitar lead the transformation. Unfortunately, up until the three-night April run at Martyr’s recently, Mr. Kimock had been MIA from the music scene in Chicago. So when I finally got the nerve to pack my bags and take the long road out to the Pacific Northwest I was delighted to learn that Kimock’s band KVHW would be stopping through my new hometown of Portland, Oregon for a show at the legendary Crystal Ballroom (a place that has since captured my imagination and twirling spirit for its haunting beauty and splendor, not to mention the countless great musical performances it has silently witnessed). In the two years since I’ve managed to catch either KVHW or the Steve Kimock band several times, the most recent being back in December when I dragged my girlfriend an hour and a half south to Springfield where Kimock proceeded to play to a mind-blowing show till 4am, not to mention the presence of Kesey and his kooky bunch. So when I read that Steve was coming back to the Northwest at the end of May I was thrilled to cross paths with him again and quickly looked ahead on the calendar.
At the time the shows were announced thought to myself, “damn I wish that Vancouver show was on a Saturday,” but simply smiled and enjoyed the thought of myself bouncing on the floor of the Crystal to SKB. Then, about a week later and just as I was preparing to buy my tickets to the Friday show in Portland, I actually took the time to look at a calendar. To my excitement I realized that the run of shows was actually over Memorial Day weekend, thus giving me the ever-important Monday off to cruise on up to the Great White North for a rendezvous with Mr. Kimock and his roving band of shakers. I quickly jumped on the horn and rounded up a few souls with whom I would make the long journey north. They were all quickly on board with the project and we began making our plans for the long weekend. Not only would I get to catch a great show but we could also use it as an excuse to get out of the country for a few days and check out the shimmering city of Vancouver.
After catching some flak from the aforementioned friend Jason for skipping the Portland and Blaine, Washington shows (which the latter I’ve heard was a very special evening, a “dance party for me and three hundred of my closest friends” as mentioned on the Kimock discussion list), we piled in a few cars and began the trek north. After a long 7-hour ride, highlighted by a 2-hour Seattle Memorial Day weekend traffic jam to be remembered and another hour sitting and waiting to cross the border, we arrived and found our hotel. The first thing that struck me about the city were all of the buildings as you drove into the heart of the city, the thumb of the peninsula capped by the luscious Stanley Park, how all looked old, used and worn. Hundreds of skyscraper condominiums all painted in pastels, looking somewhat like a high-rise metropolises in the Caribbean, were plastered before the eyes with the green and careening mountains painted in the background, some still speckled with white snow at their very tops. But as you entered the city and were brought face to face with the endless line of light pink and baby blue condos I had the stunning realization that it was all brand new. Bright steel and glass buildings in every manner of style and shape lined the clean, busy streets of this northern urban center. From my time in Chicago I appreciated the many faces and languages walking past me on the street, and the busy bustle of a crowded city moving in mid-day. Saturday and Sunday were mainly spent wandering the city for interesting points, and a long bike ride through Stanley Park, a ride that I would suggest to anyone.
Sunday the show approached and before my clan hit the park for our afternoon ride we casually strolled past Richards on Richards to check the time of the show, find will call and generally just try to get a vibe on the place. It didn’t fare well. In the bright haze of the afternoon sun Richards looked bleak and unwelcoming. A plain one-story building with a bland tile exterior and nary a welcome face in sight, the place looked like a 1970’s roller rink past its prime, withered and dead. Of course never judge a book by its cover is how the saying goes, of which we would soon enough be reminded. Later my friend Matt and I returned to our hotel to clean up and have a beer before making the short walk back to the venue. Once inside we were surprised to find ourselves in a very nice, large wood-paneled room, with a stage positioned somewhat to the right and back of the room. There was a bar in the far corner and another to our right, and off the left stairs lead up to the second tier, a long balcony sweeping along the edge of the dance floor with a bar in either corner. The difference between Richards exterior and Richards Interior were night and day and we both looked at each other with a grin. We managed to score two stool seats on the far right of the balcony, looking down perfectly over the dance floor and the stage where we could soak in the entire scene that would play before our eyes.
If I can ever say one thing about Steve Kimock I’d say that I wish he could find his band. Since I first saw him play with Zero back in 1998, I have seen him play with KVHW (and sometimes Haggerty), The Other Ones, Phil and Friends, and a few different versions of the Steve Kimock Band. And after the shows in Springfield in December I really thought he had found three guys with whom he could surround himself. This lineup, like the last, in my opinion is the strongest. As to whether I prefer Mitch Stein’s Guitar work to Tom Costers keys I can’t say, other than I think the main difference is whether you prefer rock or jazz on that particular night. But what I think is important is that songs change with every new player you introduce, but they never fully develop. Should Kimock ever stay with one lineup for any lengthy amount of time other than short tours here and there I think his songs would develop much further than they are. With a cast of constantly rotating players the songs often sound underdeveloped and lacking of focus on the development of the central motif, and rely mainly on the long improvisational passages in between, a chance for Steve and the others to really get in their groove and show off their chops. Yet the central motifs to various songs are never truly developed over time the way they could be with a full-time band.
That being said, I can also say that he never fails to blow my mind. And Sunday proved no different.
When the band took the stage Kimock lined up to the left of the drums facing us up in the balcony perfectly. All night I took great pleasure watching the wizards hands move in front of my eyes. The band clearly showed how tight a band can get over the course of a tour, following each other through the transitions and changes in a game of cat and mouse. Occasionally Steve would clearly gesture or use his eyes to call a change, but for the most part, Vega and the others knew they were coming and followed in succinct rhythm. The opener “Rocco” started featured Mitch Steins guitar work in the beginning and Kimock waiting in the wings as he warmed up. Steins sound was rich, and although he had his back partially to me it was good if not a bit muffled.
One thing: I have never seen a drummer like Rodney Holmes. The man looks like a teenager behind the wheel of a really big, fast car in which he can barely see over the wheel, but sits with such a mischievous grin that any time there is any open space he’ll turn it on to see what the machine can really do. He is a whirlwind of arms and hands while he moves effortlessly between thick, sharp funk beats to swirls of long jazzy fills. All the while Vega follows with his staccato runs of his base, playing a bit with Steve, playing a bit with Mitch, but mostly playing with Rodney. Through “Moon People” and “Rudson’s Roaches” the band was concise and tight, and by “Kissin’ the Boo Boo” they had really hit their stride. Kimock laid out a wonderful variety of melodic runs, dancing between jazz and rock. A smokin’ version of “Bad Hair” closed the set with Stein and Kimock both getting a share of the limelight, running the scales together, Stein sounding like a harder version of Dickey Betts to Kimock’s Dwayne Allman sound, and together they had a nice contrast to hear.
The second set was simply raging. “Why Can’t We All Just Samba?” has always tripped my trigger and as the opener it really rolled and rollicked along, Kimock providing his signature smooth slide lines over the tight rhythm work of Holmes and Vega. A very nice “Avalon” lead into yet another version of “Long Form,” a song that has seen several arrangements and continues arise in a various incarnations. In all, it is a splendid vehicle for extended improvisation. When the band broke out into “Poonk” the place erupted and the dance floor moved to up another level. From my vantage point on the balcony every body in the place was moving and the performers on stage were visibly enjoying themselves with smiles and laughter shared between solos. “Poonk” lead into a fairly standard “Cissy Strut” and back into “Poonk.” Closing with thick and funky “5b4 Funk” the band had worked the crowd into a frenzy. Unfortunately there must have been an early curfew being a Sunday night, and after a second brief introduction of the band and a few words thanking the crowd, especially those who had seen multiple shows, Kimock saluted the audience and strolled offstage. It seemed to be a bit of a truncated ending to the show, but the crowd gave a warm ovation to the band as the lights came up and began heading for the doors.
As Matt and I began our walk back to the hotel we realized how our plan had come to perfect fruition. A wonderful visit to a new and beautiful city, and a rip-roaring show by one of my favorite guitar players alive had made this a weekend to remember. Kimock and I had crossed paths again and other than a few new faces aboard and some new surroundings, the result was the same: musical bliss.
Here’s to hoping he visits Oregon Country Faire!