CHESTERWEEN: KIMOCK AND SPECIAL FRIENDS

A rare and special treat was handed out to fans of Steve Kimock this Halloween at the legendary Chester's Place in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Kimock, with a little time between his stint with Bruce Hornsby in September and October, and the resumption of his regular touring ensemble, The Steve Kimock Band, cobbled together an interesting assortment of old and new friends for a unique two night stand. Old comrades, Martin Fierro on sax and vocals (Zero, Steve Kimock & Friends and Legion of Mary) and Banana on vocal, various guitars and mandolin and keyboards (Zero, Steve Kimock & Friends, Youngbloods), Steve Pryor on guitar, a Tulsa based musician, and new friends, Reed Mathis on bass and Jason Smart on drums (Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey) gave those in attendance quite a stunning pair of performances. The first night was a sublime evening of acoustic music, the second was a wild and fun night of jamming replete with some old Zero chestnuts and some well chosen covers. I can't think of another example of being able to see basically the same grouping of musicians two nights in a row, in the same venue, yet the performances being so utterly different yet both being brilliant. A rare occurance indeed.

Night one was a sit down, mellow, quiet, non-smoking affair at the club. Two rows of chairs and several rows of tables were set up where the dance floor usually reigns supreme. For many longtime fans of Kimock, this was like a dream come true; an entire evening of intimate yet intense playing by the musicians, and intent and concentrated listening by the audience. There were times that night that Chester's Place was so quiet, that the ring of the cash register was the only audible sound other then music. The first set opened up with a number of folk tunes with Kimock on Baratone Ukelele and Banana on various old acoustic guitars and mandolin while providing the vocals. Songs like "Cuckoo," "Let the Harvest Go to Seed," "Hag and Churn" (a pipe reel), and "Darlin Cora Is Gone" gave the evening a precious feel. Later in the set, Kimock switched to acoustic guitar and they brought Fierro, Mathis and Smart up on stage to join them in some blusey and more upbeat numbers, the most satisfying of which was probably the blues standard, "Ridin' With The King", a song that was long a part of the Zero repertoire. Things seemed a little tight at first, with the musicians feeling each other out and getting used to the more subdued setting, but by the end of the set things became much more relaxed. Which set the stage for a wonderful, loose and relaxed second set.

The second set of the acoustic show started off with Kimock and Banana playing two melodic and mellifluous duets using some interesting acoustic guitars including Kimock playing slide on a Regal Hawaiian Lap Guitar. Then they brought up the rest of the musicians for what was perhaps the highlight of the evening, a stunningly beautiful rendition of the Kimock classic, "It's Up To You." This song is one of the most brilliantly conceived and popular instrumentals that Kimock has written and has been a staple in every configuration that he has played in over the years (including his stint with Phil & Friends back in 1999). This version was quite unique due to the makeup of the band and by the mere fact of it's being playing in this acoustic format. It included fine solos by Fierro, Banana, and of course Kimock himself, as well as some rather unique variations within the main themes of the song. They followed this with a lovely rendition of the David Grisman song "Dawgs Waltz." The show closed out with a few more folk and blues songs including an emotional performance of "Brother John Is Gone." Set to the tune of "Iko Iko," it was a tribute to the late John Cippolina, an early mentor to Kimock and co-founder of Quicksilver Messenger Service and Zero. Kimock could clearly be heard singing from stage. It was a priceless moment. The crowd went wild and insisted on an encore and was given a heart-wrenching version of "Hold to God's Unchanging Hand." It was truly a special night for all music fans and of course an especially welcome experience for those of us who have been following the career of Steve Kimock for many years. Just before the electric show the following night, Banana shared with me that, "I've been trying to get Steve to play with me in this format for 15 years!" We're all glad that Banana finally convinced him to do it.

Halloween night, billed as "Chesterween, an evening with the Steve Kimock Electric Band" was a totally different animal, but every bit as satisfying for everyone in attendence. Chester's Place was decked out in Halloween garb, as was much of the audience. Costumed patrons were greeted at the door by an orange cloth curtain in the shape of a carved pumpkin. We came trick or treating, but it was all treats that night. The band took the stage at around 10PM and played two long sets approximately two hours each. The musicians and the crowd were up for some good old jammin' fun. Very fine playing by everyone, including Steve Pryor. Martin Fierro was in fine form throughout both nights. What a pleasure it was for so many longtime Zero fans to hear Martin playing so well and wisecracking in between songs. "Chut Up!" was heard ringing through the night, a welcome, joyous, and nostalgic sound for many of us.

The first set opened with the Fierro penned instrumental "Anorexia," a staple of both Zero and the old Steve Kimock and Friends. A lively and funky way to open the show. They followed with three more old Zero tunes, including a terrific "Cole's Law" and one of my favorites from that era, "Sun Sun Sun," which featured a tremendous slow building peak by Kimock, a signature of his soloing style. The band did a credible job with Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come," then back to two monster instrumental tunes often played by Kimock in earlier bands, "Baby Baby" and the Wayne Shorter jazz classic, "Footprints." Both sported some very exciting playing by all, giving new life to these old warhorses. The set ended with a rousing version of the rave up blues-rock standard, "Mercury Blues." Sure, there were some miscues here and there, that is to be expected with an impromptu grouping like this. But the great improvisations and the crackling energy more then made up for them. Reed Mathis is an extremely talented bass player and his band mate Jason Smart held the music together admirably on drums. They seemed to be walking on cloud nine playing with these venerable musicians. And the old pros were loving it. There was a palpable chemistry between Mathis and Kimock. The band, especially Mathis, was just beaming with smiles throughout the performance.

After the break, the band came back with one last set full of great playing. There were some surprises, like the Mark Knopfler ballad, "So Far Away From Me," sung by Steve Pryor. The group had a little trouble finding their footing on this one, but Kimock rose to the occasion towards the end of the song, with one of the most poingent, up-lifting and emotional solos I have ever heard him play. It brought tears to many an eye in the house. The band in electric format decided to do one more rendition of "It's Up To You" featuring intense solos by Fierro and Kimock. This, as it was the night before, was one of the high points of the evening as this song often is. We were then treated to a Zero tune which had been kept on ice for a long time, "Golden Road," a rollicking jam filled extravaganza. The set ended with the late era Grateful Dead ballad "Like A Road" sung lovingly by Banana. But the crowd wanted more, and even though Kimock's cursed little "gig clock" said it was time to stop, he was given the green light for one more number. After a little back and forth on stage, they decided to play the Hendrix anthem "Little Wing." Steve Kimock is well known for his soaring renditions of this song and this night will go down as one of the great versions from this guitar master. It must be heard to be believed. Steve busted the high E string as the song reached it's final climax. An appropriate ending to the night.

The band gave it all they had. It was two absolutely stunning nights of music in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a seemingly unlikely place, except for those in the know about that hip little town. Hopefully this last minute grouping of old and new friends of Steve Kimock will assemble again some time for more music making. Clearly, everyone on stage and in the club had a fantastic time during this short two-night run. While this grouping of players was not polished or ultra "tight," it was the best sort of improvisational experience. We were all "in the moment," a lofty goal, but often a difficult one to achieve. All in attendence left hoping for a repeat performance some day. In between songs, late in the second set of the electric show, Martin Fierro smiled at the crowd and told us, "I hope you people realize how much you are being loved here tonight."

Indeed, Martin, we were, and we did.

Words: Andy Dorfmann
Photos: Jennifer Brunner Kimock
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[Published on: 11/7/02]

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