Steve Kimock and Friends (Crazy Engine), The NorVa, Norfolk, VA – 3/7
Crazy Engine Makes a Stealth Debut at the NorVa
The recent Steve Kimock and Friends shows at the NorVa in Norfolk, Virginia, were planned with several purposes in mind. They were scheduled as late night after-shows following the nearby Phish concerts in Hampton (about a half hour away). The shows were also a five-year anniversary celebration for the producers, Passion Presents, a northern California-based production company formed from seeds planted on Grateful Dead and Phish tours of the ’90s. But what no one in the audience knew until the players took the stage around two in the morning on Saturday, March 7, was that “Steve Kimock and Friends” was actually Crazy Engine’s stealth debut, a band that was not slated to play publicly until the start of their national tour later this month.
Crazy Engine is Steve Kimock on guitar, his son, John Morgan Kimock on drums, bassist Janis Wallin, Melvin Seals from the Jerry Garcia Band on keys, and “The Girls”JGB vocalists Shirley Starks and Cheryl Rucker. Throughout Saturday’s four-hour, two-set show that saw the sun rise over the seaside city of Norfolk, the band found its collective legs with a mix of Kimock originals and JGB and Motown covers. At times Kimock’s signature trancey music, at times slight disco funk, and at all times feel-good rhythm and blues, the band seems like they are still just getting to know each other and beginning to explore the places their large catalog of songs wants to take them.
The show was largely instrumental, as it was composed mostly of Kimock tunes such as “Ice Cream Man” and “Five B4 Funk,” but Kimock, alternating between guitar and pedal steel, surprised everyone by jumping on vocals (“Slow Down”) and busting out house rockin’ hits like “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” The Girls added vocals to many of the instrumentals, adding a new dimension to those tunes and another layer on top of the guitar, bass, and organ, which rotated around John’s drums.
Speaking of Johnhe is alert and intense, not for one moment taking his eyes off his connection with Janis, Melvin, or his father. He deftly anticipates shifts in the pacing and is highly conscientious of his role tethering everyone together. Musically wise well beyond his nineteen years, he negotiates tempo shifts and subtle volume changes as a seasoned pro.
Cheryl and Shirley seemed to sit down more than they stood up singing, due to the large number of instrumental tunes. But times they were at the forefront were definitely the most fun of the evening, and the female interface was refreshing. Several times throughout the show, Kimock silently encouraged Janis to emerge from her spot tucked between the drum kit and the organ and to claim her rightful place as the anchor of the band. More bass in the house mix during the second set aided her in more fully owning that role.
The apex of the evening was the mid-second set gem, “Stop That Train.” On a night when the kings of jambands had been celebrated, it was touching to note Kimock’s treatment of this tune’s legacy. He danced around Jerry’s lead, lightly touching it at tender points and wrapping it with his own silky signature sound. Melvin’s obvious joy in performing came through in the sweet way he sang the lyrics and the lightness and fluidity of the organa heart-opening, spirit-affirming moment that touched the packed house.
Hopefully the band will continue to gel, Janis will step out of the shadows, and The Girls will lend their voices to more songs on the set list. This is a band whose sound will no doubt expand exponentially as the six musicians’ relationships solidify over the next couple of months.
_Free downloads of the shows are available at www.Kimock.com_.