Review & Photos | Steve Kimock & Friends | Mill Valley

Images by: Alan Sheckter

Steve Kimock & Friends :: 12.15.13 :: Sweetwater Music Hall :: Mill Valley, CA

Steve Kimock and Friends’ four-night residency at the intimate Sweetwater, Marin County’s leading live music venue, was a great success! Closing out on Sunday, December 15, the run of shows was profound and powerful, delivering heaping helpings of harmonious, nimble-fingered virtuosity.

The musical operation’s mission was this – to honor and recreate the rock/jazz/R&B sounds, stylings and vibes of the now 40-year-old Jerry Garcia / Merl Saunders Live at Keystone album. The band included Steve Kimock and a bevy of brilliant specialists that he has been formerly known to create musical magic, with RatDog, Everyone Orchestra, Zero and more: Jeff Chimenti, Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz, Bobby Vega and Sunshine Becker. Adding to the throwback to the Keystone-era magic was drummer Bill Vitt, who has been relatively quiet since his days with Garcia and Saunders (as well as the Brewer & Shipley and Sons of Champlin). Vitt was more than up for the task.

On the closing night, Al Schnier, fresh from a three-night run with moe. in San Francisco, stopped by to tear it up on the guitar for a few numbers. But the clear star of this night was Wolf, a guitar that Garcia played in the ‘70s and a little in the ‘80s. Lent to the hall for the night by its owner, Kimock aptly and respectfully picked lead guitar runs all night, channeling the general sound of late-’70s Garcia riffs, but as he always does, presented with Kimock’s own signature.

The team of musicians was sublime, with Kimock, one of the finest guitarists in the so-called jamband circuit, wearing the captain’s hat but clearly showing deference to each member’s contributions. Lebo’s scorching jams made for a helluva one-two guitar punch (three when Schnier joined the fray); Vega, who has long been a superb Kimock sidekick, was as dirty and funky as ever on the bass; Vitt was steady as they come back on the drum kit and Becker sang with brilliance and confidence throughout.

The setlists on Sunday, like the previous three nights, included plenty of songs that Jerry Garcia performed over the years, including two tracks on that old Live at Keystone record, “The Harder They Come” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” The interpretations of each piece of music were reverent to the past while offering fresh improvisations. Kimock and company started off with four songs familiar to all, each with its own special vibe, and places at which to stretch out and groove. The proceedings started with JJ Cale’s “After Midnight,” which Garcia covered often over the years. But here, Lebo and Becker added to the sweet jams by showing off an uncanny ability to offer dual lead vocals. Such collaborative vocal tradeoffs were also offered in “They Love Each Other,” “Franklin’s Tower,” “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “The Harder They Come,” the latter being the only encore during the four-night run. An instrumental version of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” came second, with Kimock, who has played the song very intermittently in the past, coaxing a bring-a-tear-to-the-eye quiet beauty out of the Wolf. An exciting version of Steve Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” on which Saunders took a rare vocal lead back in the 1970’s, ignited the room, with Vega especially robust and the other players right in step. An instrumental version followed of another Beatles song, “Come Together,” and also delivered extended joyful, bass-heavy jams.

Slowing it down a bit, and with Chimenti channeling Saunders on the organ, the all-stars next took on “They Love Each Other,” presenting a sweet dual-vocal version of a ditty that was quite common in both the Jerry Garcia and Grateful Dead catalogs over the years. The six-song, 90-minute first set (you do the math), ended with a superbly reverent instrumental version of Garcia’s “Gomorrah” with Vega powerfully contributing to the song’s deeply defined melodic riffs.

The second set began with the many instrumental moods of Zero’s freeform “Tangled Hangers,” followed by a beautiful rendering of Bob Dylan’s slow classic, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” The Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower” came next, achieving the evening’s pinnacle of energy with Schnier joining the action onstage. With Schnier still along for the ride, the ensemble kept the energy level sky high with Albert King’s classic blues anthem, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” with great vocal treatments from Lebo. A crowd-pleasing “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” and apropos “We Bid you Goodnight” ended the final set.

The vibe of the club Sunday night, though fully sold out, was relaxed, friendly and well-schooled on the musical task at hand, with the 300 or so attendees grateful for proceedings such as this that so often take place in their little North Bay neck of the woods. Time will tell if this particular assemblage of players will ever rekindle this musical flame.

JamBase | Wolf Guitar
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