Alright, so timeliness is not my forte. I'm always getting caught up in the moment, hence my lateness with papers, reviews, bills, and work, but perhaps it is also a reason for my being drawn to The Steve Kimock Band, whose tendency to explore the moment through improvisation, emphasizes "the now" in music. In my opinion, SKB consistently illustrates one of my favorite observations about existence that every "now" is a new "now", and they will continue to explore that maxim in their New Years Eve Celebration, The New Now Ball at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall.
Perhaps the only thing that really matters in music is the moment. Or maybe not, but if so, is this "review" of an SKB show from late October still relevant? Well, I'd like to think so. There is at least some value in past and future, in memory and anticipation. If this fall tour is any indication, the upcoming New Now Ball will be a moment in time to be remembered!
The "new now" theme for the upcoming NYE celebration is a fitting opportunity to explore some of the seeming contradictions of the jam band scene. Improvisational music is by definition "about" the moment. Is it strange that a type of music so tied to the moment has a fan base that places so much emphasis on capturing and cataloging that music? Can the fan who "knows" all the "greatest" versions of a particular song ever be satisfied with an average performance?
Comparison and its bastard sibling Expectation often mar the moment. The many blissful experiences I've had seeing Kimock have created the foundation for my anticipation of seeing him play. I am always hopeful that this show will be among the best ever. Oftentimes for me the first notes of a particular song will yield a rush of all the hopes and dreams tied to the memory of a particularly spectacular performance. The better the performance memory, the higher the expectation.
But how can you really compare performances? How can a memory be better than a live experience? If you are concernerd with how the present performance compares, then you are hardly experiencing the moment, right? Not to mention how many variables play a role. The scene, the sound, the weather...every listening experience is going to be different.
This particular performance, October 28th in Burlington, VT, was the show I've been waiting for. The Steve Kimock Band brought it all to the table this particular Friday night. The song selection was top notch. The venue was superb. And my wife and I were finally out without the kids! Could it get any better than that? Well, the lovely city of Burlington topped things off with an idyllic sunny fall day at the Farmers Market, plus a yummy Indian lunch and a Halloween parade the next day. Not a shabby weekend, I must say!
Where do I start? I suppose when I saw that Steve was going to be in Burlington on a Friday night, I immediately hoped to myself that my mother-in-law might be able to come stay with the kids so wifey and I could make the road trip from Saratoga Springs and have a night to ourselves. Lo and behold it worked out. Thank God we called her the day before to remind her, because she said she thought it was Saturday night...ugh. What a nightmare that would have been! The stars were aligned!
Time for some music! Higher Ground is a well designed venue. It is a ballroom style floorplan with chandeliers and plenty of dancing room with a bar along one side and one in back. I liked that the bar in the back was raised a couple steps, with some tables and the like. There was a tiny little balcony overlooking stage right that was accessable to press and guests...nice view, but the sound was primo out front...in fact there wasn't really anywhere that didn't sound great. Gotta hand it to Steve, I have never heard any band he has been involved with that didn't sound great.
Many of you are already familiar with the ineffably cosmic guitar playing from Steve Kimock, and most of you who know about Steve are likely familiar with his incomparable band. All of them of virtuostic talent. Rodney Holmes on drums provides unparalled dynamic range and heart. The only name I would drop that Rodney might compare to is Billy Cobham. Billy was the first drummer I had ever heard who could play "lead drums" without breaking out of the song into a drum solo per se. He could simply overtly or subtley control the song's shape and feel and not break the momentum. Rodney does this, maybe even better! He is one of the most captivating drummers I can remember. And it isn't just that his playing commands yoiur attention and respect and awe, but he simply exudes a warmth and plays with such heart that you can see and feel how real he is. There is no bullshit agenda with Rodney. He makes me want to keep writing about him until i get it right. We'll leave it at that (Heck, one other note: be sure to check out Rodney's new album to be released next week, Twelve Months of October).
Reed Mathis plays bass with a fluidity and sincerity that makes you groove. His smiling and dancing is so infectious that you can't help but enjoy just watching him enjoy playing, but even more you can't help but dance! His other band, Jacob Fred Jazz Odysey is another mostly instrumental, expeditious trio of sonic explorers. Steve always finds great players, but Reed is a revelation.
Last but obviously not least, Robert Walter's funky organ fills this music with depth and soul. Sometimes you look up and wonder, "What the F**k is making that sound?!" And Rob is hunched over his keys, wailing away. He mixes in these crazy, complementary rhythms that trip you up and make you dance like nobody I've heard play in a long time. Plus, when Rob breaks out the B-3, look out, the New Orleans native will surely be cookin' up of some kind of soulful stew, a groovin' gumbo if you will.
Burlington was a blast. The crowd filled in nicely, yet there was still plenty of dancing room, which made both my wife and I happy, we like our space. The band was all smiles and apparently much happier with this crowd compared with the poor turnout I witnessed two nights earlier in Troy. Catching Reed's ear to ear grins during pregame warmups set me up for the great night ahead, as my notes confirm, "Reed a very happy boy tonight."
The highlights of the evening included the lead off number "Moon People" which I hadn't heard without former SKB guitarist, Mitch Stein, but Rob's crazy keyboard matched Mitch's whacked out rhythm work. A nice warm up, but the "Ice Cream" that followed typified for me how this tour has been for this line up. It wasn't the smoothest version ever, but it hardly mattered as the highs were very high and the perseverence the band showed to reach those highs was gratifying indeed. Steve kept regrouping the band so to speak and taking further charges that paid off with some hard dancing and a blissed out climax on the third peak.
My wife likes to go explore the venue and we meet up to dance every other song or so. She checked in with her report on what the music did for her. She rambled on about this bubbling of light that finally broke through on that last peak of "Ice Cream"...I thought that was apropos. Apparently this night was going to be a battle of light and dark..."Incantation", according to my wife, revealed the darkness "yelling to get back in". But Rodney's drumming helped to "chase the darkness away". I don't remember at which point she exclaimed to me, "And he's winning!"
I had not heard a Mitchless "Weapons of Moose Destruction" yet and found this one quite satisfying. The transition from Rob's solo to Steve's (Walnut Tripleneck Stringmaster) solo was so smooth you probably missed the handoff. "Twinstar" was led in by a gorgeous bass solo from Reed, as my wife said it was like floating downstream while rapids slowly built, but never lost control. I thought it was more like a sweet dream gone awry. "Dr. Zaius" closed the first set. I think this has been one of the great songs for 2005. Always a little something for everyone. And Rodney always makes this one intersting. If anything, as a fan, hearing Steve take the song into a looser and less formal realm would be fun, but that might not mesh with the feel of the song. I forgot to ask my wife what she thought.
I love to hear people's far ranging interpretation's of the music. It goes to show just how subjective it all is. I am always humbled by seeing a show that I thought was mediocre only to take my first step out the door and over hear someone say, "That was the best ever!" Yet, I feel there must be some type of objective nature to the music that allows folks to collectively deem a particular performance "great" and another "mediocre". There are times when the music is just so hot you have no choice but to believe, and yet, it always comes back to the listener. Go figure...I guess that is why I appreciated my wife's interpretation so much, because it was based on what the music did to her and how she reacted, rather than judging it as good or bad per se.
That is exactly what I love about the SKB experience. It is a trip every time. And the second set exemplified that for me. I had been waiting since KVHW (circa 1999) to see "It's Up To You" live, so I was fully satisfied with this perfunctory performance of it. The thing about this song is that is is wide open for literally anything to happen - Steve's "Dark Star" if you will. The song reminds me of the first time I visited Yellowstone. I drove in from the north and remember climbing a mountain, expecting some amazing peak at the top...I had no idea what the view was going to hold. And when I came to the top of the mountain, I was blown away that it was no mountain, but rather a huge plain. All I could see was flat grassland for miles, and some more mountains far in the distance. I drove for a long while before coming across a herd of bison. I drove on and on and came to the grand canyon of Yellowstone (or whatever it is called). Holy Moly! Whole worlds hidden away in this seeming barren plain. The geysers, the forests, the lake, the Tetons in the distance...This was a place in which to get lost in the moment. Around every corner was a new place and time. And therein, every now a new now. I have always felt that way about the vast possibilities of "It's Up To You". This may not have been my favorite version or the most fully explored, it is always worth the trip.
Next up was, in my opinion, perhaps the song of the year, "Elmer's Revenge". There have been a number of decent versions throughout the years, characterized by what I think of as a sort of "triumphant redundancy" of the main riff as the song builds intensity. I was first struck by the use of the end of this song as an oppportunity for Rodney to go off. The so-called lead instruments and bass hold down a steady rhythm, allowing for Rodney's turn to explore, usually blowing the doors off the place. This year the mellow first section has developed into one of those timeless spaces for exploration. I quite enjoy the mellow side of SKB, and some of the spacey noodling that Steve partakes in this section nowadays can be mind boggling. I love it. Robert is assured an opportunity to unleash his super heavy oprgan here, too, before Elmer finally got ahold of that wabbit.
I found my wife upstairs having a nice conversation with Steve's sister Anne (I didn't ask if she spells it with an "e" or not). She lives in Vermont and said she loves to see Steve when he is in the area. She was adorable talking about her big brother and how proud she is of him. I asked my wife how that conversation developed, and she said she just asked her if she was with the band, because she thought Anne must be related to Steve, "They have the same hair!" I had to laugh at that one. Meeting her and hearing a new perspective on Steve added more color to an already colorful experience.
After the that little interlude and the two jammy juggernauts, we got some old fashioned funk, Robert Walter style, with "Hover" and "Aquafresh" which are prime dance numbers for the masses. The addition of the "Rob tunes" has been a nice new twist to the usual SKB fare. They tend to be more consice songs with some raunchy soloing by both Rob and Steve. Next was a sweet and melodic version of "Stella Blue" that always makes for a happy crowd. Steve stayed with the Stringmaster for nice run through "Samba", which makes for a good closer. A truly satisfying and exhausting night! But this poor body was ready for my feet to leave the dance floor, and find a new now with my head on my pillow.
All in all, the "new" Steve Kimock Band proves to be as fun and danceable a band on the scene today! They keep everyone happy from the guitar geeks, to the funksters, the trippers, and even those who are just looking for a good night of music away from the kids. If you can't catch them live, you can buy pristine recordings of their shows at digitalsoundboard.net or oftentimes you can find many of their great fan recorded shows on archive.org.
The SKB archivist, Charlie Miller, has put together some highlights of this fall tour on his Road Notes Vol 2 released through digitalsoundboard.net (yes, of course there is a volume one from late spring, which I also highly recommend). This is a phenomenal three disc set which is missing only one piece to make it "complete" in my opinion. It needs a good "Elmer's Revenge". But lucky for us, Charlie uploaded the soundboard/audience "matrix" version of the show from Dallas on 10/01/2005 as a special treat for the fans on the Live Music Achirve. Also check out the version of "Eudemon" from that show as it is amazing (which is included on Road Notes). It is the title song form the first SKB album which came out in August. If you look around, you can find plenty of great freebies all over the internet, and the archive is the jackpot. You are sure to get great sounding fan recorded music there. If you want a premium sounding recording of a show you have seen or simply want to hear, digitalsoundboard.net will have it, most everything from 2003 to present. They also have begun podcasting some highlights from various shows for the occaisional treat.
Check out kimock.com for details of upcoming shows. I believe SKB is on its way toward the great Northwest before they head down to San Francisco for their New Years Eve run. Get out to see them durng this particular now, because you never know how long your now is going to last. Better Now than never...
Thanks to all the Kimock Band and crew. You are putting out some great music and taking us all to some crazy new places!