Steve Kimock Band, Mercury Lounge, NYC- 7/3</b.
Much to the consternation of West Coast fans, psychedelic guitar hero Steve Kimock has moved to the East Coast. Many of those fans became addicted to Kimock’s precise, punchy playing through his work with Zero and KVHW, although he’s been on the Bay Area scene since the seventies, and they’ve guarded him like a secret indulgence (though the secret certainly leaked). Kimock’s present unit, SKB, has slowly coalesced into a steady band that gives the guitarist the opportunity to stretch in new directions and to interact with the band as part of a musical collective rather than as the director of a musical collection. Bass giant Alphonso Johnson (Weather Report, Wayne Shorter, Jazz is Dead, TOO to name a few) joined the band as a full time member in December, the final ingredient in a powerful mix that also includes drummer Rodney Holmes (Santana, Wayne Shorter, Hermanators) and guitarist Mitch Stein (Hermanators). The band is, in degrees, eclectic, electric, imaginative, subtle and over the top. Many old school West Coasters grumble that the new line-up is too aggressive, too heavily influenced by band members other than Steve, too East Coast, but joy is visible on stage as the quartet digs into a host of instrumental tunes that seem to cover more and more territory with each performance. (The average tune clocks in at something like 15 minutes.) There certainly is a new fervor to the music, but it is anything but a hindrance. Since long-time collaborator Bobby Vega parted ways with the band last summer, SKB has launched a number of success-filled national and regional tours, including a handful of dates in Japan, and released two live albums (Live in Colorado and East Meets West), and their name is spreading quickly. Perhaps SKB’s present incarnation is East Coast (Rodney and Mitch are both New Yorkers), but it definitely works, and we’re happy to have him. So happy in fact, that NYC fans held a private party at the Mercury Lounge to welcome the band.
The Merc has been home to a number of special events in recent years, including a very intimate show from The Slip, and Velour’s Winter and Summer Soulstice celebrations, the 2001 Summer Soulstice being a stealth Soulive show. As such the small club was the perfect venue for a Kimock party.
The first set opened with Thing One, Kimock quickly getting lost in the rhythm section. Regrouping, he climbed to the surface, cooking along and eventually surrendering once more to the rhythm. Suddenly the whole band dropped in a loose Who Do You Love/Mona jam. Steve unleashed a fine rock n roll solo that slowly cooled and then morphed back into Thing One. The transition back was subtle and fluid, and the band was beginning to stretch its wings.
The following You Are the One was the highlight of the set. Each band member was so distinct and clean in the mix as they launched into the upbeat rocker. Alphonso filled the room with deep bass on the opener, but his sound now settled, making room for the others. Steve’s initial lead was short, and he brought the vibe low before passing it off to Mitch. Moodier, Stein’s lead began quietly but quickly picked up pace and caught fire. His sound is often fuzzy, making a great foil for Kimock, but here it was nice and clean. Finishing the passage, he made way for a wonderfully exploratory space jam. Alphonso rose up with a lengthy solo over which Steve scattered stardust. The room expanded and breathed a huge sigh as the haze settled in. The movement became quieter and quieter until Rodney burst in with a short fill that shocked Steve into one piercing note, and suddenly direction was found. Now Mitch was on space patrol with echoy rhythm work as Steve forged ahead, ringing sounds of peculiar sweetness. At some point the band created a jam where each member added short notes that spun like gears in a clockwork mechanism before closing the tune. It was a splendid, searching version of a Kimock favorite.
The rest of the set included a heavy-handed, but well structured Bronx Experiment; a somewhat rough New Africa; and a great, closing Hillbillies on PCP, with the band crushing the end jam. Sandwiched between Africa and Hillbillies was a sleek, sinister Elmer’s Revenge. Stalking prey on hidden trails and lurking in shadowy ravines, the early sections thrilled, but the ride out was so long and loaded with Rodney fills, robot guitar from Mitch and big bent bass notes that it melted minds.
The second set opened with Song Two, the temporary name for one of the handful of more recent joints in the band’s repertoire. Brooding bass and effects from Steve’s lap steel gave it a dark tone. Kimock played a short, weighty solo, followed by an extremely focused barrage of hot licks from Mitch. As with the Bronx Experiment, it was notable for its structure.
Rodney worked a crashy intro to the sad early section of High and Lonesome where each note’s potential impact was made clear. It flowed into the second, longer portion, and sound waves washed over the crowd. A great example of group consciousness, the band was locked up and digging in right away. Near the end, a section that centered around Rodney’s fills had the drummer and Alphonso thumping and popping in a show of spontaneous orchestration. Keeping the full band focus, the quartet drifted through the ethereal passages of Moon People and devastated the stage with cataclysmic explosions. At one point Mitch bent a note and leaned back, and Alphonso did likewise immediately. Those two have a fantastic rapport, constantly playing off each other, trading smiles and cracking jokes between songs.
Ice Cream Factory, penned backstage at the now defunct Wetlands, cast a wide net with fine work from Rodney through the early portions and nice loping, mountain ridge strides from Kimock. Alphonso made as if to take a solo, but instead declared a line and let the guitarist toy around- another example of the cohesion in the band. A smoking jam ensued, carrying the groove to a start/stop return to the song during which Alphonso snapped off an excellent series of legato licks.
The show closed with a confident, but still grating Sabertooth (it’s too bad that SKB feels the need to play it at almost every show) and a blissful Cole’s Law filled with broad, breath-taking vistas. As a welcoming party, it was a fun, interesting show. There were a couple weak points, but those can be overlooked considering the risks taken and the ground covered. After all the willingness to take risks and cover new territory is one the traits that won Kimock his fans, and one of the reasons we’re happy to have SKB on the East Coast.