Steve Kimock Band :: 06.19.04 :: The Tralf :: Buffalo, NY
Once in a while, you're reminded of what music can be at its best. Once in a while, all of the frustrations of the music scene--long lines, chatty crowds, difficult security people, crowded rooms, and poor audio systems--suddenly drop away and the true magic of pure music emerges. Once in a while, things are as they should be in the world of music. One of those times was last night at The Tralf in Buffalo.
Let me begin by saying this was a special night for me. I have sat at the Tralf watching jazz bands play to very respectful, classy audiences--performers like Vital Information (with Steve Smith and Tom Coster; does that name ring a bell?)--and wondered aloud why the Steve Kimock Band cannot play in such a classy venue to a sophisticated audience. But, alas, Steve hadn't played in Buffalo in... God, has he ever played in Buffalo? Not in at least ten years. It was a dream come true when this gig was announced. The Tralf is a classy nightclub setting with an excellent sound system. Of course, none of these details ensures a great performance. But we got one in this case.
The Steve Kimock Band kicked off the International Guitar Festival and put on a dazzling performance for a small but appreciative audience. The band introduction emphasized the series of guitarists that this festival represented (including Richard Thompson, Larry Carlton, and Melissa Etheridge), and I began to wonder how that would affect Mr. Kimock. Would he be daunted by participating in such a series? Would he be ultra-motivated? Would he be totally unfazed? Well, once the band took the stage it was soon clear that participating in a guitar festival was just the motivation that Steve needed to present his best. He played virtually every guitar in his repertoire—-in every way imaginable—-using his fingers plainly, finger-picking, slides, lap steels with multiple techniques, and some new tools. It was quite a show.
SKB :: 06.19.04 by Arielle Phares
Of course, the decision to open with "Cole's Law" is never a bad one. It was clear, from the opening moments of the show, that this was not going to be a sloppy bar-band show. You could hear a pin drop as the opening noodlings of "Cole's Law" dripped out of the white Strat. The crowd seemed to be virtually breathless from the start. Audience members had found their way to seats at tables, with a large dance floor area in front completely unoccupied, until a few of us die-hards carefully slipped in and sat on the floor in dead-center heaven. You could feel the crowd being palpably led through the twists and turns of the song and you could hear every note played by each player (with the unfortunate exception of Jim Kost, who was more audible than usual but still not loud enough by any means). The raging conclusion of the tune had already engulfed the audience, and this connection between the band, the mostly uninitiated audience members, and the few diehard Kimock-heads was never relinquished in the course of the night. It was as if a musical conversation, without words, was carried on in an effortless manner throughout the evening.
"Electric Wildlife" was a kind of return to reality--nothing flashy, nothing outstanding. But the appearance of the Explorer that accompanied the opening notes of "Ice Cream" brought out some of the best of this current SKB configuration. During the long, meandering jam which "Ice Cream" seems to inevitably include, Steve demonstrated some awesome "explorer creativity." Every note was so clear, ringing out into the theatre and enveloping all. When he pulled out the Stringmaster Fender steel guitar to begin the next tune, Steve commented, "Alright, here goes. Someone gave this ball to me so I might as well try to play it." What he was referring to was, literally, a ball, made of Amethyst stone a fan had given him to play on the Stringmaster, using it to slide on the strings of the lap steel.
SKB :: 06.19.04 by Arielle Phares
We were then treated to one of the all-time great versions of "Samba." Steve started by gently stroking the strings with this stone ball, which produced a softer, more eerie sound than I can ever remember coming from any of the steel guitars. This introduction was extended, with Steve then using the picks and other more familiar techniques to bring the familiar theme of "Samba" into play. What was really striking, though, was rhythm guitarist Mitch Stein's solo here; it was not the usual jazz-fusion McLaughlin-esque wail that we're accustomed to from Mitch but a cool, sweet, almost Garcia-like solo that took us on a journey. Stein then passed the torch to Steve for one of his most powerful "Samba" finishes I can remember!
A solid version of "Brother Mike" followed, and a characteristically wonderful "Tongue 'n' Groove" to complete the first set. It was the first time I've ever seen the Steve Kimock Band receive a standing ovation. Of course, it's hard to receive a standing ovation when the crowd is usually already standing in a smoky bar in their sticky sneakers, trying to avoid the bottles and beer spills. And this was after only one set! I think the crowd, accustomed to the usual jazz shows played at this sort of venue (about an hour to an hour and a half long), thought it was the end of the show.
During the break, I heard chatting in the bathroom about--what else--the awesome drummer (Rodney Holmes) and the amazing display of guitars and guitar-work of this Kimock guy. And, isn't that second guitarist really great, too? The buzz was on. I felt like I was dreaming--all of this at my favorite hometown venue, where Steve was basically completely unknown, and it was one of those magical nights. And nobody went home, it seemed. After the shortest SKB break in noted history (about ten minutes), the second set began.
The second set, of course, could not live up to the level of the first. "Malichi" was great. I've now heard several versions of this tune, including the one from Toronto the previous night (not nearly as good), and I can see why it was hailed by the West Coasters as a new classic. Steve's solo really soared at the end and the band seemed to really jel during this song. In fact, this particular unit--with bassist Leo Traversa and keys man Jim Kost joining the solid trio of Kimock, Holmes, and Stein--is just plain tight. Holmes had the crowd completely mesmerized with his characteristic mixture of soft finesse and sheer power on the drum set. Stein was never more comfortable, his jazz background fitting beautifully into the nightclub setting.
Some of the new tunes--"Malichi" in particular--that were written with and for this particular ensemble were among the best played, because everyone, including Leo and Jim (relatively new members), appears to have a written and improvised part which they know intimately. "You're the One" contained a really cool, bluesy slide section where Steve played this very far-out stuff on the Supro Ozark, if I recall correctly. But the last three tunes were just average, in my opinion, and it seemed like the energy was dwindling. The crowd certainly got a kick out of the "audience participation" in "5 B4 Funk," and it was a nice way to end a truly wonderful evening.
SKB :: 06.19.04 by Arielle Phares
Another standing ovation followed, and the band seemed to be in such a good mood that they stayed around to chat and sign CDs and DVDs and just hang out. I also saw a LOT of action at the merchandise table; this type of audience BUYS! Mitch and Rodney both commented on how great the audience was, even though they weren't familiar with their material, and how great the sound system was. They told me that it's just fantastic to be able to hear each other so clearly.
Overall, this was one of the most enjoyable evenings I've had in a long time. It was up there among the best shows I've seen in 30 years of serious concert going. By the way, just like Phish, moe., and the Dead, SKB now makes a matrix, soundboard/stage mic copy of their shows available for download. Check out digitalsoundboard.net if you're interested.
Once in a while it all comes together, and this was one of those nights!
Cole's Law, Electric Wildlife, Ice Cream, Samba, Brother Mike, Tongue 'n' Groove
Malichi, You're the One, Elmer's Revenge, Weapons of Moose Destruction, 5B4 Funk
Words by: Gordon Atlas
Images by Arielle Phares
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