Steve Kimock Band, The Bowery Ballroom, NYC- 9/26 & 9/27
In front of a relatively small yet a relatively rowdy crowd, Steve Kimock strapped on his explorer and leaned over toward the microphone. Steve is not the story telling kind, but gave us a little history of his instrument, how it was made at the New York Guitar Lab and how it loves to be home again. With welcoming approval from the audience, he then led the band into another New York native, Ice Cream Factory, a tune that describes the back room at the Wetlands in December, and it was magic. Steve's playing was effortless, immediately sterling, as he eased the music into an interesting quiet passage with Rodney clacking out rim shots and Arne slipping in a number of playful bass fills. And then the song exploded. A super bad rhythm jam developed, swelled, shook and burst wide open, torrents of sound and energy washing off the stage. People were holding their heads in disbelief as the jam seemed to peak, only to have Steve push it into another upward spiral, and then another. It was THE Ice Cream Factory; it was the show. Everything else is a post-script.
The rest of the set was plagued by strange crackles and a weird bassy buzz that would come out of nowhere. During Avalon, as the buzz materialized everyone on stage looked at each other saying, "It's not me!" and Arne pointed to a rail rat, laughing, "It's that guy!" Throughout the night, the bassist was smiling and playful, and it showed in the music he produced. He seems to be much more comfortable with the material and the band dynamics than he was in the spring, taking the opportunity to develop rhythmic currents in the open spaces, and digging deep into the low end to shake the stage, while always allowing the music to breath. His lack of imposition frees Steve and Mitch to drift into spacier regions, so that a tune like Avalon, which was previously characterized by a wild uphill scramble, is now a song loaded with strange interludes and misty asides. The first set also included a nice Cole's Law, Mitch's only solo in Electric Wildlife, and a searing Tongue n Groove closer, a personal favorite.
Steve spent most of the set break on stage tinkering and fidgeting, so that the sound was cleaner for the second set (although some crackling remained). A short one, it featured excellent drumming on High and Lonesome, and a big swinging solo from Mitch on Arf, She Cried, where he was trading licks with himself. A very slick, really excellent version of Elmer's Revenge had Arne playing low and open through the middle, creating a strange terrestrial residue for the song's anxious runs. Pete Sears, who opened the show with The Flying Other Brothers, joined on a Yamaha for Hillbillies on PCP. At the start Steve was right next Mitch, the two laughing with smiles and power chords. Again, this song was playful, joyful. After the first Caribbean section, Pete began his solo, characteristically building it up to a sweet line right at the end that prefaced a creative, thematic jam from the whole band that set the Ballroom's collective feet flying. A fun show overall, with many grins and much laughter, it was in the end, all about the Ice Cream Factory.
Saturday night, however, was a whole different game. After a day that fluctuated between hot sun, cool cloud cover, sun showers and storming winds, the city was charged with strange vibrations, the setting just right for an evening of sonic exploration. The crowd was about the same size as Friday night, about two-thirds capacity, but much more focused on the business at hand. Initial cheers feel to suppressed murmurs, and then to quiet as the band began Long Form Part I. The warmth of the music filled the room immediately and it was clear we were in for a night of serious music. The mood, the aura, was something akin to the Tongue and Groove opener from 2/2/02: instant bliss. Long Form Part I is a favorite tune because it largely functions as SKB's Playing or Tweezer; that is, there is no internal song structure at all and every version is different, although some are more successful than others. The first jam on Saturday had Rodney skipping along with speedy, light drumming as the music mellowed. Steve's solo was characterized by an influx of rhythm based lines, a trend that would continue throughout the night. The second jam switched gears, Rodney now unleashing rapid fire beats, and maintaining the grove while Steve picked goofy licks. Mitch, much more confident and present than the previous night, slid in with a wicked rhythm structure, his hand reaching over the top of his guitar's neck, and running down the frets. The movement swelled and Steve carried his solo into the final composed section, and with a single note, cast off the accumulated vibrations, leaving a clean sound to close- an auspicious opener.
In the following Life of the Party, Steve played the second introspective section so precisely, so delicately, it was chilling, and on the fantastically reworked Song One, Steve again displayed the tonal perfection and deft fingering that makes Toaster addicts the rabid bunch they are. Another rarity, Sea Blues (last played, not coincidentally, on 2/1/02 at the Bowery) preceded a beautiful Kissing the Boo Boo, comforting in its gentleness and slight stagger. The jam there became brighter and brighter, with Steve, Arne and Mitch all leaning towards the center of the stage and getting down on the groove- a highlight in a night full of highlights.
The first set closed with Why Can't We All Just Samba, loaded with excellent sharp, popping drums from Rodney on the noodly introduction, and a rich, full solo from Mitch that won great plaudits from the crowd. Steve's solo began with some very interesting backpedaling slide work that eventually led to a shredding climax with Arne and Rodney locked up tight and driving hard.
Just as the first closed with a classic, the second set opened with one: It's Up to You, as lush and warm as the LFP1. The mid-song bridge into the second jam was icy smooth, and the jam itself had Arne and Mitch digging deep under Steve's lead, the whole band running like a pack of wolves.
While not actually reworked, Rodney's Bronx Experiment entered new territory in terms of style and performance. Steve played creepy Arabian guitar (not dissimilar from Mitch's second solo on many versions of Tangled Hangers) on a lengthy introduction, single notes declaring the song here and there before the music rose to the composition itself. Stylistically, the hard edges were smoothed, a hair's breadth of space being added between individual sounds which served to oil the gears. The middle section was haunting, breathtaking, mournful and reminiscent of the introduction's Arabian tones. Even the final composed section was ripped open; this was a formerly great song, now fully realized, and another apex of the evening.
With Thing One, the weight of tone and mood and intricacy was lifted, and the concert became a joyful dance party. Bodies shook and hopped throughout the song, quaking and head banging to the following Moon People, and grooving hard to Long Form Part IV (which created a fine framing of the show), with Peter Apfelbaum joining the quartet on tenor sax. Apfelbaum, who sat in on keys for a number shows over the summer while Mitch was on tour in Europe, knew the material well and played along with group, rather than simply taking solos. It probably goes without saying that his sax contributions were much more satisfying than his earlier keyboard work.
From start to finish, this show was keeper. The sounds were thick and the vibe was right- a perfect fall evening. It was the best show I've seen since Alphonso left the fold, and the best I've heard from the Arne era.
Dan Alford couldn’t stay out of New York for very long.