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
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
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
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
Isamu has learned how to back up a strong leader with confident playing of his
Paul LeFebvre laid out crisp clear rhythms, memorable riffs
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
JamBase | NYC
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