This past Saturday evening, guitar master Steve Kimock and his band performed to a sell out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom in lower Manhattan. It was the second show of a two night stint in the early part of an ambitious nation-wide tour that will take this ensemble from the snowy wilds of the northeast, through the deep south, Midwest, up and down the west coast and ending with a three night run in Denver. New York has always seemed like a home away from home for Kimock well before he moved back east from California. Since the close of the Wetlands, the Bowery Ballroom has become his venue of choice in the Big Apple. So it was one part homecoming and one part sendoff to the upcoming barrage of tour dates for SKB. When the band took the stage at around 10:30, the normally chatty, rough and tumble New York crowd fell dead silent. Kimock looked up at the crowd appreciative and amused and mocked a golf commentator, "an expectant hush came over the crowd" he chuckled. Kimock is a man of few words; instead he lets his music do all the talking. SKB takes this posture to its full potential in its present incarnation. There is no singer and no words whatsoever, but there are plenty of ideas, feelings and possibilities to be expressed in the music. This is powerhouse instrumental improvisational music.
The current configuration of SKB features a grouping of talented, serious and downright intense musicians. The band consists of Rodney Holmes on drums and Mitch Stein on guitar, two highly accomplished musicians who hail from New York and have been playing with Kimock for about two years. The newest member of the quartet is bassist Arne Livingston, who has turned quite a few heads over the past few years with his band Living Daylights from Seattle. Livingston has been with the band for only a few weeks, but is already making quite a contribution with his rich full tone and unique bass style. This night would promise to bring some fine instrumental music and a few surprises to the lower east side of New York.
By Tony Stack
The first set opened with a sparkling rendition of "Ice Cream Factory," a tune that features Kimock's intricate and soaring solos, played on top of Holmes' precise and powerful polyrhythmic drumming, Stein's fascinating accompaniment replete with intricate lines, counterpoint rhythm chords and other-worldly electronic guitar effects, and Livingston's bass foundation. The evening was set into motion with some fine ensemble playing on this popular Kimock composition. After a standard reading of "Kissin' the Boo Boo" a song dating back to Kimock's Zero and KVHW years, what followed was a very long improvisational exploration on another relatively new composition entitled "Long Form Part 1." It will be of interest to Kimock's close followers that one of the middle bridge sections of the song has been reworked to include a rather complex variation on the basic chord progression of the song. It was both exciting and beautiful to hear Kimock and Stein weave their way through this new passage. The set was rounded out with two Rodney Holmes compositions, "Electric Wildlife" and "Moon People" sandwiching the classic Kimock anthem "Tongue-n-Groove." The breadth and scope of this band was showcased nicely, with themes ranging from the soft and delicate, to powerful and climatic, to the cacophonic, wild, frenetic and raunchy power chords of "Moon People" to end the set.
By Elise Ryerson
The second set at the Bowery Ballroom turned out to be quite a musical journey. There were rumors circulating through the crowd that Livingston's band mate from the Living Daylights, alto saxophone player, Jessica Lurie was in the hall and might sit in. SKB, a very tight and precise outfit, is not known for impromptu jam sessions, so no one could be sure whether this would take place or not. But before that would happen, SKB had a few other tricks up their sleeves. They opened the set with a fine rendition of "A New Africa," a song dating back to the KVHW days, full of complex rhythms and pretty melodies. Next, the audience was treated to something that fans of Kimock will find both enlightening and reassuring. SKB played a brand new Kimock composition entitled "Life of the Party." This was only the fourth reading of this song, destined to become a classic. It was introduced only a week earlier at the The State Theatre in Falls Church, VA. "Life of the Party" is a song with two distinct sections, a slow sultry ballad like section opens the song, with gradually building expansive chords, followed suddenly by a sprightly allegro tempo section which also gradually builds to a climax. This is a yin yang treatise from the pen of Steve Kimock. Oddly, given the song's title, there is a clear sense of melancholy one feels from this song. It seems to speak to the bi-polarity of the universe and the sadness and joy that are inexorably tied to the human condition. Perhaps Kimock wrote this for a person that he knows, or perhaps for no one in particular, perhaps for us all. Whatever the source of inspiration, this song is clearly a winner and will no doubt be part of the repertoire for many years bearing delicious fruit as it matures.
By Tony Stack
At this point in the night, SKB invited Jessica Lurie, the highly talented and inventive saxophonist from Living Daylights to join them on stage. Most longtime fans were expecting to hear one of the rare covers, like "You're the One" or "Baby Baby," songs that would be easy for an outsider to pick up. Instead, Kimock shocked us all by playing the opening notes of perhaps his greatest and most beloved song, "It's Up To You." Not what one would expect to hear with a guest! Lurie performed admirably and clearly both Kimock and Lurie were impressed and pleased with each other as they wound their way through this complex and spellbinding song. It was not the Kimock guitar fest that one usually gets on this song, but instead it was a fascinating and interesting rendition that bears repeated listening. "It's Up To You," also featured some ferocious bass guitar playing by Arne Livingston, who seemed clearly inspired by having his old band mate with him up on stage. Jessica stayed for two more numbers. First, they played a somewhat simpler and newer song, "Long Form Part 4." Kimock could literally be heard teaching Lurie the song and the changes on stage just before they began playing. With this more free and simple backdrop, first Kimock, then Stein, then Lurie proceeded to rip off thrilling solos to the delight of everyone in the packed house including Kimock himself. They segued from this to a Rodney Holmes composition "Sabertooth," which features electronic loops, power drumming, and weird, wild and sometimes atonal jamming even on a normal night. Lurie chimed in with some weirdness of her own, but it was a strange choice for her to sit in on this number. Hopefully this meeting will be a harbinger of things to come in the future. It would be great and likely even more fulfilling to have Lurie sit in with SKB again.
By Elise Ryerson
SKB ended the night with one of their best closers, "Avalon," an up tempo rocker that weaves, bobs, and improvises its way through thematic melodies, rock and roll, and soft and melodious passages, all leading up to a tremendous climactic release. Perhaps the quintessential SKB song at this moment, "Avalon" has become a favorite of Kimock fans. It is an especially good vehicle for Kimock and Stein to trade their signature licks, wrapping solos and comping around each other like complementary strands of DNA binding into long stretches of the genetic code. With this, the night was over. "We don't do encores, we just play until it's over, then we go home", Kimock has been known to say. The house lights came on, the house sound came back up, and the crowd wandered off happily into the chilly late winter New York air.
By Tony Stack
The Steve Kimock Band has embarked on a huge nation-wide tour that will most likely come somewhere close to you. If you have a chance to get to a show, you should. This is a fine group of serious musicians playing powerful and intricate music. SKB is definitely not for everyone. For those who require words to sing along or are more interested in the party atmosphere, they may not appeal. But those looking for a deeper musical experience, full of great musicianship and accomplished playing, should seek out SKB. You won't be disappointed.
JamBase | Virginia
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