Words by: Eric Podolsky | Images by: Susan J. Weiand
Steve Kimock Crazy Engine :: 03.28.09 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA
The second of a two night run at the Great American Music Hall saw the hybrid band Steve Kimock Crazy Engine really stretch out and explore some new places. Those in attendance who hadn't caught the first show of this run wondered what was in store, as this collaboration between Steve Kimock and Jerry Garcia Band alumni Melvin Seals is out on its first tour. The music proved worthy of the hype, consisting of two sets of stretched-out, laid-back, jazz-tinged R&B sprinkled with plenty of bliss-outs, courtesy of Kimock's impeccable guitar tone and Seals' meaty Hammond swirls.
|Steve Kimock - Crazy Engine :: 03.28 :: S.F.|
With Kimock's son John Morgan Kimock manning drums and Janis Wallin on bass (recruited from Family Groove Company), the rhythm section holds down a solid-as-a-rock backbone. Wallin's thick playing is old-school, a no-frills, no-fills R&B style, which keeps the songs standing upright no matter what direction the music moves in. Behind the kit John Morgan had big shoes to fill as Kimock's longtime SKB drummer, Rodney Holmes is an utter monster. Young Kimock more than proved his worth with playing that made him sound twice his age. With this youthful rhythm team chugging away in the background, Kimock and Seals had firm ground to let loose, as the spotlight alternated between the two throughout the night.
The show started off with a couple of good time boogie numbers, "Baby, Baby" and "Get Out My Life Woman," giving vocalists Cheryl Rucker and Shirley Starks (also members of Melvin Seals & JGB) a chance to show off their gospel pipes. These R&B tunes gave the band a chance to stretch into some bluesy territory before diving into some instrumental Kimock originals. The Zero tune "Cole's Law" sounded superb with this band, and when Kimock stepped up to the plate and let loose some whirlwind licks the band clicked on all cylinders. "Cole's Law" was the first tune of the night to showcase Kimock's mastery of dynamics. Cutting into the heart of the song's jam, he brought it way down and the band was surprisingly responsive and sympathetic to his extraordinary delicacy. It was during such moments of restraint that the audience was in awe of Kimock's ability to silence a room with his hushed tones. He forces listeners to lean hard into the music, and rewards them with true moments of bliss and crystalline, liquid beauty. When Kimock is on, it's like floating on air.
And then, just like that, we're drawn right back down to earth with some Melvin Seals storytelling blues, in the form of the spoken word tune "Me and the Devil." Throughout the show it was the Seals tunes where Kimock busted out some of the heaviest, bluesiest licks that we've heard from him in a while. Perhaps it's the muscle that Seals gives behind that Hammond that's giving Kimock a little kick in the ass, because it seemed like Kimock was definitely playing raunchier than usual much of the time. This was followed by a momentous first-ever: to close the first set, the band ripped through Larry Williams' "Slow Down," with Kimock on lead vocals! Kimock has rarely sung on stage before, and this new development makes one wonder why, as he has a pretty good voice!
|Melvin Seals - Crazy Engine :: 03.28 :: S.F.|
Set Two immediately showed that this band was ready to get down to business, starting off with an almost 20 minute "Five B4 Funk," a SKB instrumental partly in 5/4 time, and an audience favorite due to the participatory "whoo!" This piece was a showcase for Kimock's lovely chops, as the bass and organ held back, bubbling away a solid rhythm throughout. Maybe with time, as the musicians become more familiar with the tunes, we'll see more full-band interaction. After this intense jazz exploration, the funk was busted out with The Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing," featuring the ladies Rucker and Starks on vocals and Seals switching to piano. This was a fun tune, which once again grounded the music and urged Kimock to get down and dirty, which is really a treat when he's so inclined.
By this point, the band's identity started to take shape. The tunes were clearly separated into showcases for Kimock and Seals, with the JGB/R&B tunes putting the spotlight on Seals' organ and the ladies' vocals, and the instrumental Kimock tunes being straight guitar explorations of the stratosphere. The contrast in these two styles worked very well, with Seals always there to bring it all back home with a huge B3 solo after Kimock had been tripping out in the clouds.
The one exception to this formula during the show - a slinky, flowing version of "Footprints," the Wayne Shorter tune made famous by Miles Davis' quintet - was the highlight for me. It was here that the band really started to play as a unit, letting the music breathe and taking it places. They stretched this one far out there into some seriously deep jazz turf, and the chemistry was heavy and undeniable.
|Steve Kimock Crazy Engine :: 03.28 :: S.F.|
After all this serious business, Seals again brought the party back with JGB staples "That's What Love Will Make You Do" and "Don't Let Go." Seals didn't sing at all in the original JGB, and his lead vocal attempts on these tunes made a pretty clear case for why he didn't. Though inspired, Seals' singing left much to be desired, and was greatly propped up by the ladies. It didn't matter too much anyhow, as these songs were audience sing-alongs for the most part. Both these tunes were seriously stretched out, dropping into some dark grooves that strayed far from the main melodies. Seals then took us all to church with an absolutely massive organ solo to end "Don't Let Go" before Kimock took the reins back with his own "Hillbillies on PCP." This SKB tune closed the set with its twangy rave-up licks and organ vamps, Kimock and Seals both peaking out to bring the show to a rollicking, rowdy climax.
The lack of an encore (a common Kimock move) upset some in the audience, but this was small potatoes in an otherwise completely satisfying night of music. This band delivered all that could be expected from such an anticipated collaboration, plus plenty of surprises. The music is certainly jazzier than expected, and Kimock is rocking harder than he has in years. Seals' thick, warm B3 and Kimock's honey-love tone work perfectly together and present their songs in fresh ways. This band still has plenty of touring to do and will likely just get better over the coming months. As all the members play in other groups, we don't know how long this collaboration will last, so catch these guys while you can. They are capable of some serious magic.
3.28.09 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA
Set I: Baby Baby, Get Out of My Life Woman, Cole's Law, Tangled Hangers, Me And The Devil, Slow Down
Set II: Five B4 Funk, It's Your Thing, Footprints, That's What Love Will Make You Do, Don't Let Go, Hillbillies on PCP
Steve Kimock Crazy Engine is touring now, dates available here.
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