New Years Eve is a time for celebrating, pausing, reflecting, and spending time with family and loved ones. NYE is about Auld Lange Syne, the remembrance of times long past as we move into the light of a new day. The second annual "SKB Snowball" held in the Denver, CO suburb of Englewood was all of this and more. The Steve Kimock Band and their fans commandeered the Gothic Theater for a two night run on December 30 and 31. With fans from all over the country, SKB picked a centrally located spot to celebrate the New Year. Many of the Kimock faithful, myself included, traveled from far and wide to be a part of the event. SKB's home-grown and passionately fan-run organization KBASE arranged a marvelous travel package, including incredibly inexpensive yet amazingly comfortable rooms at the Holtze Executive Suites in Englewood, all night after-parties including live music by Shanti Groove, yummy food, and even a New Year's Eve parade by the performance troupe, Living Folklore.

Oh, and there was some great music along the way as well. Expectations and spirits were high as we gathered in the mountains to ring in the New Year and celebrate 2003, another very successful year for Kimock and his band mates. Many of us were already aware that there would be a film crew present on the 31st to document the evening for a DVD release sometime later this year.

For this run, which included two dates in San Francisco at the Avalon Ballroom and one at the Fox Theater in Boulder, CO, the band was re-joined by the great Alphonso Johnson on bass. Johnson played with SKB for most of 2002 and was warmly welcomed back into the fold by band and fans alike. A new member was added to the band this time around, Jim Kost on keyboards. Kost added some new color, weight, and heft to the sound which to these ears had been a bit lacking in the all-guitar format. Kost is an old friend of Kimock's, re-united when Kimock moved back east last year after all his years in California. The core of this configuration should be familiar to Kimock fans: Steve Kimock on his quiver of guitars, Mitch Stein on second guitar, and the incomparable Rodney Holmes on drums. These three have been playing together now since April of 2001 and their almost extrasensory communication can be clearly observed on stage. This is a formidable and hugely talented ensemble of musicians who take their craft very seriously but also manage to have a heck of a lot of fun when they perform.

The first night was in a sense a dress rehearsal for band and audience. No cameras were present, but the lights were turned up a bit and one could sense the focus on stage. The crowd was a little sparse compared to what would happen the following evening, but at the same time, everyone who was there was there to hear the music. It was an incredibly respectful crowd that evening, at times so quiet that it was almost startling to the band. A big part of the musical art and craft of SKB is dynamics, the aspect of musical performance that varies sound levels from whispers to roars. On that night, the crowd was right with the band--when the music wound down, one could nearly hear a pin drop in the hall, even late into the show. The first set was nearly flawless, one of the best sets of music I've seen from this band. They opened with an old Kimock chestnut, "Severe Tire Damage," one of Kimock's oldest and most beloved compositions which, in addition to Kimock's melodious and crisp playing, featured a gorgeous solo by Johnson, who wound his way through the piece on his fretless bass, beckoning the spirit of Jaco Pastorius into the hall. It was a fine moment and an auspicious beginning to the run. From there the band went into the upbeat favorite "Bad Hair," a piece dating back to the KVHW days. From there, the band played three of the newer pieces in their repertoire, "Life of the Party," a pretty ballad; "Bronx Experiment," an intense fusion number written by Rodney Holmes; and a brand new composition "One For Brother Mike," a tribute to Kimock's old friend and band mate Mike Goodman. The set ended with an incredible version of "Why Can't We All Just Samba" featuring searing solos by Stein on electric guitar and Kimock on his triple neck Fender Stringmaster lap steel guitar. Kimock brought the band and crowd to a crushing climax with his mastery of that difficult instrument.

The second set saw a continuation the fine playing with several musical highlights, including more amazing lap steel work on "Long Form Part I" and a rip-roaring bass and drum duet on the Bruce Hornsby cover "Rainbow's Cadillac." The band unveiled a reworked version of "Elmer's Revenge" a few days earlier, featuring a long early 70s Miles Davis-style jam highlighted by Jim Kost's keyboard work and a rocked-out jam at the end led by Alphonso Johnson and Mitch Stein. The band was in fine form and brought the crowd to a final frenzy with their signature anthem "Avalon" to end the show. Night One was a fine performance, setting the stage for the festivities still to come the next night, New Year's Eve.

This might be a good time to mention the magnificent backdrops behind the stage at the Gothic both nights--imagined, crafted and executed by Paul Little, AKA Tie-Dye Paul. The 30th saw three giant psychedelically-decorated mushrooms behind the band, wonderful eye candy! On the 31st, Paul unveiled one of his enormous signature tie-dyed wall hangings. This was an absolutely amazing piece of work. During the show, a shadowy video version of the band (in real time) was projected upon it, making for a very trippy effect. It was a nice alternative to the usual lighting effects which had to be held in check for the video filming.

The New Year's Eve show was billed to have three sets, and it was revealed to Kimock fans a few weeks ago that a film crew would be there recording the proceedings for a DVD release. With all this expectation and pressure, some of us were worried that the show might be spoiled or otherwise not rise up to the usual level that SKB has set for themselves. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The band played that night with an intensity and focus that I have never quite felt before. We arrived early enough at the venue that my companion and I were able to find a spot right up on the rail directly in front of the band.

The first set began with a whisper. Kimock quietly walked out on stage with his square neck Regal (acoustic) guitar, sat down in a chair with his guitar in his lap and a slide in his hand and just began to play in the raga style. So quietly in fact, that many of the people in attendance didn't realize that he was playing at all. Like the first wisp of a breeze that tickles the leaves on a summer afternoon in advance of an approaching storm, the evening had begun. The first set had some nice moments, but was mainly a tune-up, for the video and for the rest of us. They repeated "Storm Crow" and "Severe Tire Damage" from the night before. Both were fine versions and "STD" again featured a nice bass solo from Alphonso.

Set Two was a little more developed, a more typical set for SKB. They opened with "High and Lonesome," a song that features soft mellifluous melodies to begin and slowly builds to a succession of powerful chords at the end. This is a hallmark of Kimock's writing and playing style. The band made its way through another version of "Bad Hair" and "One for Brother Mike." The set closed with that venerable warhorse of the Kimock canon, "Tongue and Groove." "Tongue and Groove" begins as a quiet and contemplative piece of music based loosely on the chord progression from the Marvin Gaye R&B classic "Sexual Healing." This song is among my favorite Kimock compositions and it dates back to the early days of his former great psychedelic San Francisco band Zero. "Tongue and Groove" came to its rollicking climax and the band left the stage. Now the hall was rocking and everyone was in full gear ready for the finale.

The band came back on stage about ten minutes before midnight and launched into the upbeat and cheerful "A New Africa." This song features, among other things, some intricate polyrhythmic drum playing by Holmes. It also sports a long "pregnant" pause in the middle of the song. Just before midnight, the band got to the pause, stopped playing entirely, and the midnight countdown took place. It was at this point that two clowns walked up on stage, members of the performance troupe Living Folklore, and led us into the New Year, with rhymes and a parade of unusual characters, including Father Time and a giant skeleton. What a fun and creative way to celebrate the arrival of a New Year. After that, the music soared as the band played some of the most endearing and expansive parts of their repertoire. "Cole's Law" into "Tangled Hangers" was breathtaking, as was the tour de force "It's Up To You" later in the set. "It's Up To You" is arguably the best piece of music, both in the writing and performing, that Steve Kimock has brought us. He has played it in every musical ensemble he has performed in, and it is always a wonder to behold. It encompasses all aspects of his style, from the quiet and elegant, to loud and rocking, to dark and mysterious. This night, it had the added attraction of Rodney Holmes and Alphonso Johnson performing an incredible bass and drum duet. The mammoth set ended with powerful renditions of "Thing 1," "Bronx Experiment," and a fiery closing "Avalon." After more then two hours of music in this third set, the band, prompted on by the crowds (and the cameras) came back out for one last "Kissin' the Boo Boo," an upbeat and happy major key number.

The second SKB Snowball was a success on every level. The music was first rate. This was my first time at the Gothic Theater, and it has to be one of the best venues in the country right now, beautifully decorated with great sightlines from every spot in the house. KBASE did a fantastic job arranging a hotel with shuttles to the shows and a wonderful after-show party with live music and food. The "family" atmosphere was present the whole time. It's going to be a real treat to see and hear this show again on DVD. I'm certainly looking forward to more Kimock events like this that seem to be popping up all over the country. Chicago, New York, Denver, and San Francisco have been the most likely hot spots for these multi-night runs. But I'll always remember New Years Eve 2003 as a very special time.

Words by Andy Dorfmann
Images by: Kevin Umberger
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 1/14/04]

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