Steve Kimock Band & Soulive, Palladium, Worcester, MA, 2/15
The SKB/Soulive double bill was the first of a series of shows at the Palladium featuring interesting but well matched pairings, including The New Deal and Addison Groove Project, Yonder Mountain and Tony Trishka, and Sector 9 and Railroad Earth. A true double bill, the event gave each band exactly two hours to play with a quick half hour break in between, making for a nice long night of music. Coincidentally, the bands will use the same setup when they play the Fillmore in San Francisco later this spring. As it's a two-night stand, the bands will flip-flop the opener and closer positions. Those shows appear near the end of a very extensive, multiple month tour from SKB, their biggest tour ever. Starting in the northeast, heading south and across the mid west, aiming for the Bay Area, the band is also breaking in their new bass player, the renowned bassist from the Living Daylights, Arne Livingston. Alphonso Johnson has taken an amiable leave from the band, presumably because his own busy schedule is too full to complete the tour, and while he is certainly missed, Arne is a talented and engaging player, and many fans are excited to have him along.
The Worcester show was only his second date with the band, and while he seemed a bit confused about where to go in some of the quieter, spacier moments, he also seemed excited and often surprised at the intense musical interactions occurring onstage, and the explosive energy they created. Arne provided a heavy, solid low end that differs greatly from Alphonso's style, but echoed the weight carried by long time Kimock Kollaborator Bobby Vega. The band members smiled throughout the set, clearly happy to be on the road again, and eager to explore some new terrain.
It's Up to You is always a welcome opener, its effervescent mood and vast scope creating an inviting musical landscape. Steve finished up his first solo by looking across the stage, smiling and then pulling the song apart from below. The music crumbled and Arne was left, repeating two simple notes in a regular pattern. The dark, cavernous sound reflected the nature of the room, Rodney's drumming defining the boundaries. Steve remained bright, picking up steam as he indicated the ledges and recesses of the passage. The whole band was now moving with greater speed, Steve's lead building to a full blown toaster before crumbling again, leaving Arne and a very light Rodney to lead the way to the song's close. This was some excellent musical adventuring. While Kimock is known for his tendency to wander far off the beaten path, there was an especially strong sense throughout the show that the rules no longer applied. A number of tunes included long spacey sections that settled in quiet clearings, as if the band were letting the music run its natural course before reviving and redirecting it.
The end of You Are the One was just such a section, materializing out a fine solo from Arne that was decorated with sharp, contrasting accents from Rodney. The following Electric Wildlife (formerly Song Two) provided more solid footing with it's more tightly controlled textural tone. It's the layering of sound in the composition, and the way the layers melt into one another, that makes this, and other similar pieces like Bronx Experiment, work so well. The solos are more leads than solos, a subtle distinction but an important one. After Steve's warm, resonant playing, Mitch stepped out to compliment an increasingly anxious movement. Throughout the show he was too low in the mix, significantly lower than Steve, so his leads dominated only as they peaked, or as in this case, slid effortlessly back into the composition.
While the biggest single cheer of the night went to Rodney's bombastic intro to Elmer's, a version that had Steve stray too far at first, so he was no longer meshing with the band, but which had all the band members smiling by the end, the best received tune was certainly the preceding Thing One. The bright, catchy rhythm structure of the chorus is so uplifting, like rays of warm sunshine on a cold afternoon. Arne found a nice groove early on, playing with a bit more high end, the sort of sound that seems necessary for the tunes debuted during Alphonso's tenure. Steve forged a series fantastically crazy statements, winding down and down and eventually landing in the crisp Estimated Prophet wah-wah. Now the band began to surface, Rodney and Arne working well together, and Mitch adding a nice rhythm idea as Steve's lead increased in volume and intensity. The jam peaked at the top, the crowd howling with joy, and plunged into the Mona section, which had more than a few in the ! crowd quietly clapping out Not Fade Away. This section featured a return to the textural approach, Steve playing low notes that met Arne's somewhere in between, and created a whole new layer of sound. The movement eased and spaced out, slowly slinking to the close of the song on Rodney's well-rendered rolls, which he repeated over and over.
SKB's set closed with an interesting version of Bronx Experiment, noteworthy for Steve's use of the Fender steel, and a solid Tongue and Groove. The Fender totally changed to the tone of the former- still heavy, but with a weird ethereal tinge, something obscurely Eastern and mystical. The latter is always just right.
While exploration is definitely SKB's modus operandi, the stretching of musical limits did not stop there. Soulive's set also included a number of tunes that reached beyond their definitions- adventure was simply in the air. The trio opened with the pairing of Aladdin and El Ron, two short, aggressive tunes. Unfortunately Kraz was turned up way too loud for Aladdin and Neal's leads were almost lost. As it turned out the area in front of the stage did not feature the best sound (it was echoey); near the soundboard and bar area, however, the sound was crisp, clean and well balanced. The third tune was Uncle Junior, but a wholly different creature than other versions. Al began the super slick intro by establishing a new beat, and when Kraz entered, the song was clearly Uncle Junior, but it was like a blues in double time- a really interesting reworking of a Soulive staple since the very beginning. Neal's first solo stayed with the pattering playfulness for longer than usual, as seemed appropriate with the new approach, and climaxed quickly once he moved to the sustained notes. Kraz picked up with a vox solo that danced around the bass line with many brief statements. As he finally moved to a rhythm structure, Neal rode in again on the B-3, bringing it back to the top with something closer to older versions in energy and tempo. The closing section was long, the quieting allowed to run its course before falling into a vox and clavinet jam, and finally blazing back to Uncle Junior.
By the time Junior ended, it was deep in the middle of the set. The band had declared its intentions and set out to realize them. Azucar followed, a great version, sweet and smooth- just as it should be. Eric's central lead was sublime, simultaneously delicate and confident, and Neal's ensuing solo was equally hot, with a very distinct idea declared early on. As he moved to the sustained B-3 notes, he also upped the bass, and the tune took off, Al crashing through the end while Eric spilled out more slick leads.
Seeing no need to break a great stretch, the band plunged into JCA. In a couple of years it will be great fun to track the progress of Soulive through this tune, and its many incarnations. This one fit the classic JCA > Who Knows > Al > JCA structure but was a monster version right from Neal's clav/synth cocktail at the outset. He settled into a weird, speedy rhythm form that ran parallel to Kraz's melody, and kept grinning across the stage as he maintained it, even when Eric moved to his solo. The vox section picked up and Neal eased and quieted, but just a bit, so that the center of the tune had a strange cartoony vibe. The pay off occurred when suddenly everything meshed perfectly, creating excellent layers of sound, each inextricable from the others. Finally Neal moved to the B-3, and Eric fell to some nice rhythm work, gunning with a slow hand. As the drums and organ fell away, Eric began the heart of his solo not by using the wah or more vox, but by playing slap guitar. He played bass before guitar, and has been known to pick it up every now and again, usually at some late night all-star gig, and here those slapping skills were on full display- another wonderfully imaginative piece of performance. Eventually Neal and Al supported with a nice groove that swelled and quickly deflated, and finally popped into Who Knows. Al charged out the Hendrix tease, but shortly slowed to low rumbles accented by sharp cracks. From there he covered a whole range of sounds, taking full advantage of his solo- Alan Evans is one of the most potent drummers on the scene.
The rest of the set included Do It Again, although the audience had some trouble with its part; a very tight version of Solid, complete with an extended clav jam, Neal all alone; Shaheed, Eric playing incredibly fluid guitar throughout; a new joint called First Street, a lengthy piece that sounded like classic Soulive of the Rudy's/Junior/So Live! era; and Dig, probably my favorite of the new tunes. It features some contrasting interaction between Eric and Neal, Eric going high and light while Neal stays low and funky. To close the set, the trio initiated a heavy, feedback laden, mega-funk monster of a jam. It roared on and on, and then from the edges the pouncing lead to 1 in 7 began to creep in. This was a huge version, making for a nice hat trick off extended, improv-laden songs throughout the night. At one point, after Neal's solo had begun to wander, a passage of mimicry appeared, Eric leading Neal on clav, and Neal challenging Eric with his responses. Neal closed the section by copying one of Kraz's lines and then attacking the B-3 without a moment's pause.
What you should take away from this show, in terms of songs, is It's Up to You, Thing One, and Bronx Experiment for SKB, and Uncle Junior, JCA and 1 in 7 for Soulive. But more importantly, as a whole show, it was a great double bill that focused on imagination and exploration. Both bands tried new approaches, sought out new territory, and while the end result wasn't always perfection, it was always engaging.