Words by: Alan Rhody :: Images by: Susan J. Weiand
Zero :: 02.02 & 02.03 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
The infamous vessel pulled into its old home port with all hands on deck (and then some!) to be greeted by a curious and loving crowd. The shows were billed as a Zero homecoming with special quests, and they certainly delivered on both those promises.
Zero :: 02.03.07 :: The Fillmore, SF
Constructed in the wilds of Marin, California during the mid 80's, Zero vigorously plied the dark barrooms of the new Barbary Coast (San Francisco's North Beach, Haight St., and Inner Sunset districts) during its early years. As the band became better known over the next decade they started filling up local favorites like the Great American Music Hall, The Fillmore, and the now defunct Maritime Hall, while cultivating a worldwide network of fans. Many of the audience, especially at Saturday's sold-out performance, were members of the extended Zero family. These shows marked the band's first performance at The Fillmore in almost a decade and the band's first performance in the Bay Area since 2000. Though crewmembers have formed various near-Zero configurations throughout the intervening years, it wasn't until March 2006, when co-founder and guitarist Steve Kimock played alongside drummer Greg Anton, and saxophonist Martin Fierro —an essential ingredient of Zero-ness— that the mighty ship was resurrected from the depths.
Due to an ever shifting lineup and just a handful of appearances over the past year, it's hard to tell who's in Zero permanently and who was a special guest. Joining the core trio of Kimock, Anton, and Fierro over the course of the two nights were previous crewmembers Judge Murphy (lead vocals), Liam Hanrahan (bass), and Pete Sears (piano), as well as the new recruits Melvin Seals (organ) and Kimock's teenage son John Morgan Kimock (drums). Old friends Donna Jean Godchaux Mackay (vocals) and Arnie Green (vocals, guitar) joined newer friends Suzanne Sterling (backup vocals), Sikiru Adepoju (talking drum), New Monsoon's Brian Carey (congas) and ALO's Dan Lebowitz (guitar). It could have been an auditory mess with so many cooks in the kitchen, but thankfully the house sound was managed by Howard Danchik of UltraSound fame, who can make this band sound better than anyone. To make the mix more challenging, Kimock broke out his usual arsenal, most notably some beautiful steel and lap guitars.
Steve Kimock - Zero :: 02.03.07 :: The Fillmore, SF
The eclectic setlists seemed designed with Murphy, Zero's most notable vocalist, in mind. Until these performances he had only sung with the reunited Zero last March in Colorado and last June in Santa Rosa. Friday night's show began with "Baby, Baby" - Anton and Kimock's highly customized rendition of an Aretha Franklin song introduced back in 1984 - and "Tangled Hangers," one of Zero's first instrumental compositions. Then, to the delight of the crowd, Judge debuted two of his signature songs, "Chance in a Million" followed by "Horses." The rest of the sets, two each night, featured the usual mix of treasures from the late '80s ("Golden Road," "Tongue n' Groove," "Many Rivers to Cross"), mainstays from the early '90s ("Gregg's Eggs," "Mercury Blues," "Home on the Range," "Anorexia," "Forever is Nowhere," "Catalina," "Spoken For"), and newer pearls "Sun, Sun, Sun," "Ermaline," and "Merle's Boogie" in honor of Merl Saunders's visit on Saturday night.
Sterling & Green - Zero :: 02.02.07 :: The Fillmore, SF
Scattered throughout the sets were Zero-fied versions of some classic oldies: "Boogie on Reggae Women" (Stevie Wonder), "Slipping into Darkness" (War), "Watchin' the River Flow" and "Highway 61 Revisited" (both Dylan), "Layla" (Eric Clapton), "Big Love" (Little Village), and "Hey Jude" (Beatles). "Crazy Fingers" and "That's What Love Will Make You Do" satiated the Deadheads. Though one of the folks onstage played with the Grateful Dead, two played in Jerry Garcia's bands, and three others regularly collaborate with Grateful Dead members now, these guys are not just another Dead-esque jamband. This is the legendary ZERO, and there is NOTHING like them.
We caught up with some of the participants after the shows:
JamBase: Judge, the fans were very happy to see you at the Fillmore. How come you were missing from some previous shows?
Judge Murphy: I had a summer schedule and a fall tour with Lansdale Station. It is my main musical focus. I had a conversation with Steve [Kimock] in January and asked him which night he wanted me to come down, to which he replied, "Well, I was hoping you could come down both nights."
Judge Murphy - Zero
02.02.07 :: The Fillmore, SF
JamBase: Did Lauren [Judge's wife and musical collaborator] make you do extra chores around the house if you agreed to play with Zero again?
Judge Murphy: Lauren is actually the one who encouraged me to do these shows. She knew that I wanted to reconnect with my brothers in the band and our vast Zero fan base. That's the spirit of the San Francisco musical family.
Does playing The Fillmore present any special challenges compared to other venues?
Judge Murphy: Actually, playing The Fillmore is so much fun that I feel cocky as hell the minute I walk in the joint. I love playing the Fillmore and Howard Danchik is the best sound man anyone could hope for.
Suzanne Sterling: The only challenge in playing The Fillmore is living up to the standards of performers that have had amazing shows there over the years!
Martin Fierro: When playing The Fillmore it's hard not to get distracted by the social part of the shows. I saw so many people I love that I hadn't seen in years. The week before the shows I couldn't answer the phone due to everyone calling for guest passes. It's also hard work just to be there, walking up and down all those stairs. We got there around noon both days to work on the sound and didn't leave until two in the morning.
How's your back nowadays, Martin? We saw you resting up there occasionally.
Martin Fierro: Actually, it's my legs that are all fucked up. Four years after I nearly died in Hawaii [after being tumbled in the rough surf] I had an operation to fuse some vertebrae in my back. During surgery, a spinal nerve was accidentally cut, which left me with a lot of problems, especially with my right leg. Later on, I fell and broke my ankle. So, I have to sit sometimes. But, I feel blessed by the Great Spirit to still be here, still playing music. You know I've been playing professionally for over 50 years now [Fierro recently celebrated his 65th birthday]. When I'm onstage I still feel like I did when I was 16. I still have that same sense of excitement and adventure.
Martin Fierro - Zero
02.02.07 :: The Fillmore, SF
Do you do anything special to prepare for a Zero show? How's it different than playing with other bands?
Suzanne Sterling: Honestly? The preparations involve completely releasing preconceived notions of setlists and rehearsed songs! Anything goes, so stay on your toes.
Judge Murphy: Lansdale Station is a vocal band, and Lauren and I do warm-ups and get a different kind of game face. In Lansdale Station, I get to pick the songs.
How are the Zero set lists formulated?
Judge Murphy: By Steve and Greg.
What were the highlights of the shows for you?
Judge Murphy: I think my two favorite performances were "Horses" and "Ermaline." There was some very magical energy Friday night. Melvin Seals absolutely had stardust on his fingers and in his heart this weekend. He is such a wonderful man. Steve burned up the stage on "Mercury" with a recent acquisition of a double-neck lap steel that a fan brought down to show him, and went home without. I warned him bringing Steve guitars could be dangerous. These shows presented a side of this band that I had not yet experienced before. It's interesting how adding different people changes the Zero mix so much. John Morgan Kimock is a great young man with vast talent. I remember him playing drums at Zero gigs and driving the tapers crazy when he was two years old. But, the high point of my weekend was to stand next to and play music with my dear friend, Martin Fierro. He is the guy who brought me into Zero and rode shotgun on my first Zero tour.
Pete Sears - Zero
02.03.07 :: The Fillmore, SF
Suzanne Sterling: I loved doing that Stevie Wonder tune 'cuz I had just learned the lyrics about five minutes before we performed it. Also, loved the three-part harmonies we got on "Many Rivers to Cross." Singing with Donna is always a treat. I also loved Melvin's slamming organ and Pete's lyrical keys trading off Steve's always dependable wizardry. And I think that Greg is a mad genius drummer of incredible subtlety. I've been a Zero fan for many years and so as far as I was concerned it was all a highlight!
Martin Fierro: I loved every minute. I've been playing with some of these folks for years - Donna since the early '70s, Steve since the Underdogs, and Gregg, Pete, and Liam, they're my brothers. I look forward to playing a lot more with Melvin. He's such a sweetheart.
Have you ever made Liam laugh onstage?
Martin Fierro: Liam's a pretty serious, motivated guy. You can always depend on him. He plays so good sometimes he scares the crap outta me. Not many people know he's a fantastic guitar player, too.
Donna Jean - Zero
02.03.07 :: The Fillmore, SF
Did you feel the love from the audience?
Suzanne Sterling: The audience was lovely. The love was written on every dreamy, sweaty, lost-in-the-music face.
Judge Murphy: So much love. I'm a Bay Area guy and I'm blessed to play music for people who understand the music they hear. It's very rare when I play a show where I don't enjoy the crowd.
Martin Fierro: Oh yeah, I love our fans. I always try to look out in the audience, make eye contact, and smile. I think I'm the only one in the band that does that. I tell those guys it's ok to do it!
What, if any plans do you have to play with Zero in the future?
Judge Murphy: The guys in Zero will always have a place in my musical history and I am sure that we will continue to do gigs when the timing works.
Suzanne Sterling: Don't know but I'd be happy and honored to play with them anytime.
Martin Fierro: Hopefully, we'll be doing some shows over the summer and in other parts of the country.
02/02/07 (Fri) The Fillmore - San Francisco, CA
Set 1: Baby Baby, Tangled Hangers, Chance In A Million, Horses, Anorexia, Boogie On Reggae Women
Set 2: Slipping Into Darkness > Sun Sun Sun > Drums > Highway 61 Revisited, Big Love, Ermaline, Hey Jude+, Happy Birthday*
*To Arnie | ^sung by Amy Green
02/03/07 (Sat) The Fillmore - San Francisco, CA
Set 1: Tongue 'n' Groove, Gregg's Eggs > Watchin the River Flow, Spoken For, Forever is Nowhere, Merl's Boogie, Home on the Range* > Layla Reprise*
Set 2: Crazy Fingers, Catalina, That's What Love, Many Rivers, Golden Road, Mercury Blues
*with Dan Lebowitz of ALO and Arnie Green
JamBase | San Francisco
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