DAVID KOLKER BAND | THE KNITTING FACTORY

Friday night I had the pleasure to see the David Kolker Band live at The Knitting Factory in a room almost big enough to contain the massive energy generated on stage. The line outside and down the block led to a place packed with people wanting to be blown away and, Kolker and Company did not disappoint. They did just that.

After seeing the line, I wasn't surprised that the show was sold out, but I was surprised to learn that there were groups of fans from California, the Mid-west, Georgia and the New England states. They hadn't ever seen the David Kolker Band - but they came to see for themselves if what they'd heard about this guitarist was true or not.

I'd seen them before at the Baggot Inn, a smaller venue they regularly play and I'd heard past live CD's and tapes all of which were great. But the difference between all those and the Knitting Factory gig was the difference between looking at a postcard of the Grand Canyon versus being there at the edge of the rim. Kolker and the Band were like the Colorado River running rough and wild - cutting deep, fat, beautiful grooves into the aural landscape. Blues is where they were coming from, but where they are going to is the musical question that has kept me and a lot of other people so intrigued.

In "Mean World," one of their many great original tunes, Kolker growled "How's he gonna work it out? How in the world's he gonna work it out?" about his song's pink-slipped working class hero. We in the audience wondered the same thing about Kolker every time he plunged into another dynamic, precipitous, gut-wrenching guitar solo. Time and again he would box himself into almost impossible emotional and musical space only to fight his way out by turning fear into fury and rage into redemption. We sensed that it was people's LIVES, not just music getting worked out there before our eyes on his whipped and worn-looking Stratocaster. Alternating effortlessly between blinding flurries and single tones seemingly suspended in an endless space and time, Kolker bent notes in a way that broke hearts. At times his guitar sounded rounded and edgeless and mellow like a violin, then crunchy and gritty, as if his speakers were full of gravel, or as lean, sharp and wiry as a barbed wire fence.

As if being fronted by one monster player is not enough, what made this band really special was how all of the members built the songs' momentum and atmosphere via their contrasting playing temperaments. Where Kolker's guitar work was muscular and dynamic, alto sax player Isamo Sato infused his solos and interlaced harmonic parts with a rhapsodic soulfulness, especially on tunes like "The Penny Song." Just when we thought he'd made us feel it all, he'd offer up one more lungful of emotion. A friend of Maceo Parker, long-time horn player with James Brown, Isamu has learned how to back up a strong leader with confident playing of his own.

Paul LeFebvre laid out crisp clear rhythms, memorable riffs and intense, resolute solos on guitar, like the one he did on "Said That You'd Love Me." He added space, color and a sense of awe to songs like "Beautiful," with his spiraling, sliding parts on the lap steel one minute, only to turn around and kick in some "take-no-prisoners" licks on the following Kolker original "Gilligan's Island." To throw even more fat into the fire of the band's sound, at times he ran his guitars through a cabinet of leslie speakers to give it that thick, "churchy" Hammond B-3 organ sound. It was rich.

Tim Luntzel was not just any bass player. He could and did play "in the pocket," and held the rhythm to propel the band forward. Yeah, of course. But he offered up a constant stream of throbbing, burbling bass lines deftly interlaced with chords, double-stops, counterpoints, calls and responses that provided lower register resonance to the other players' parts without ever once 'stepping on' anybody else's lines.

And behind it all, was Tony Mason on drums, playing with an engaged, but effortless style - whether serving up a subtle blues shuffle, like you might expect from Bernard Purdie or Charlie Watts, or building a dynamic crescendo on cymbals and tom toms, more like the late Keith Moon.

Together, Tim and Tony made a rock solid interlocking directorate of rhythm. Rhythm section T'N'T. They each distinguished themselves further when they took back-to-back solos in "Mystery Van." The inspired acrobatic rollin' 'n' tumblin' of Tim's fingers up and down the maple neck of his Fender Bullet bass made it clear that if it'd had two more strings the David Kolker Band would have three great guitarists instead of two. Tony drew the audience into his solo with a fuselage of seemingly effortless, wristy, slippery-fish stick work. And when one support of his tom-tom collapsed and sent the drum into the leg he needed to kick the bass drum with? No problem. He just worked a rhythm into the solo that hit the floor tom-tom often enough to keep it bouncing away from his leg. Geez! He took us around the world with two maple drumsticks and some cymbals and returned us back in a daze to our seats in Kolker's high octane "Mystery Van." Amazing!

This kind of energy attracts more of the same and in this case it drew lady-legend harmonica player Wendy Atlas up on stage to jam and solo on a slow-burnin' number "Move Along." Heat was coming off the stage in ripples and waves. Wendy Atlas played the harmonica like Eartha Kitt sings - hot and breathy. The solo exchange between Atlas and Kolker clearly raised the room temperature a few more degrees and was met with a collective roar from the audience.

When the Band then dropped their way into "What's Yours is Yours" the audience melded into one big rippling body pulsing to the grooves. Turning on a musical dime Kolker then asked softly "mind if I play the blues for ya?" and offered up his self-penned 12 bar classic "Two Sides of the Same Coin." With the crowd hanging on every note, Kolker dug deeper and deeper letting go of passion and despair, until the song's explosive climax. I looked up at the roof 'cause I thought surely, this house is comin' down!

Even though they'd played an immense amount of music and Kolker's T-shirt was probably more sweat than cotton when they left, people chanted and chanted and wanted more. Kolker and the guys came back on and pounded out a totally amped-up version of their song "Recognition," followed up with a heartfelt rendition of "I Had a Dream". They kept up the heat but slowed down the tempo to offer their burnin' "Soul on Fire," nick-named "The Sex Song" in some circles, from what I hear. The band then cranked back up for their final finale "I Can Get Me Some Too!" with Kolker and sax-man Isamu leaping off the stage and into the crowd - wailing - surrounded by fans. Even after all that, nobody wanted to go home.

This Knitting Factory gig was being recorded by several tapers so those of us who were there can re-live the glory sometime soon and everyone who couldn't make it can hear what they missed. There was also talk that they've just finished recording a studio CD. Having heard what incredible Tone Freaks Kolker and all the other band members are, I'm sure that it's going to be one juicy piece of work too!

BUT HEY - main thing? These guys are mostly playing around the NYC area, at the moment, but are probably gonna be hitting the road sometime soon. If you hear of them anywhere near - GO THERE AND SEE THEM!

Larry List
JamBase | NYC
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 2/1/02]

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