Sometimes music fans are lucky enough to witness one of those perfect shows, a collaboration that seems totally natural and effortless. The recent collaboration of Mountain of Venus and Steve Kimock--first in Colorado and most recently in Teaneck, NJ--has produced five of these shows, four of which I have listened to on CD, and one I was privileged enough to experience for myself.
Mexicali Blues Cafe is a big room, which looked startlingly empty when my friends and I arrived to eat burritos and greet the band in the early evening. The bar filled up quickly as the opening band took the stage and pleased the local crowd. I was so excited for the show by this time I barely heard the band, but concentrated on the fact that much of this crowd would be seeing Mountain of Venus for the first time and would be totally blown away.
Having seen MOV a number of times over the past two years, I have gotten to know their music, and to know the band members on a personal level as well. Each of them is enthusiastic about music and about the scene, and it was not hard to see their unconcealed excitement about playing with Steve Kimock. All of them--including Kimock--were on top of their game on Saturday night, using MOV's usual diplomatic, setlist-free technique of taking turns picking songs. The music produced by this group became a feeling as much as a sound, took on a life of its own, inspired by the musicians and guiding them at the same time.
During the first song, "Scenes from a Moving Van," it seemed Kimock was sort of observing, feeling things out, as he sat on a stool playing his guitar, becoming a part of the band's imaginative efforts. Before the show, lead singer Tanya Shylock acknowledged that she felt that band is complete "as-is." Then she grinned excitedly and told me, "But wait until you hear what he brings to it...it's beautiful!" It did not take long. By the third song or so, Kimock was heard and felt as much as the rest of the band. Watching and listening to Mountain of Venus lead guitarist Mike Pascale trade notes and solos with Kimock evoked impressions of music at its best, what it and the people who create it (and the people who love it) are capable of.
As the voices of Tanya and guitarist/vocalist Jody Cohen carried out over the crowd, people were genuinely moved, messages sent and received, a scene created and strengthened. Tested by playing with such a respected musician, drummer Mike "Stingray" Garrett and bassist Dave Gesualdo bumped things up a notch, pushing their rhythm harder, and driving the crowd to near frenzy during jams of songs like "Hideaway" and "Clear."
My favorite musical experiences are those that can be enjoyed on a level of both sound and emotion. Kimock helped to create such an environment, switching from guitar to pedal steel and back again. On "Built for Comfort," a song inspired by a close friend of the band, he spent most of the song on the steel, emphasizing the peaceful message of the song and helping the crowd connect to it on a deeper level, leaving the members of MOV visibly touched by his interpretation.
Having listened to the Colorado shows on CD, and having talked to the lucky few who saw all five shows, it has become obvious to me that this collection of musicians is a meeting of intelligence, talent, originality, and the courage to leap toward experimentation. As Mountain of Venus offered up song after song for interpretation by individual band members and by Steve Kimock, all these qualities became more obvious. As they played the sole Kimock cover of the night, the instrumental "Cole's Law," Tanya descended from the stage to dance as the band reached toward perfection.
Mountain of Venus is one of a handful of bands who embody the ideals of great rock 'n' roll. They breathe life into a tradition that has nearly been the death of itself by refusing to take chances, by giving in to conformity, and giving up ideals and imagination for a shot at a stadium show. So many new friends and fans were made that Saturday night at Mexicali Blues Cafe that one could believe there is hope after all, maybe in this group of musicians who insist on evolving and sharing their talent and their joy and insist on playing their best every night. If Mountain of Venus can be recognized for their passion and be drawn close by musical visionaries like Steve Kimock, if people like these can find each other and realize some common goal in their music and pass it on to a crowd as excited as the crowd last Saturday night, there may be hope for all of us, their may be hope for our music after all.
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