Review and Photos by David P. Tracer
When I recently moved houses I found an old directory from graduate school in which the incoming students said a few words about themselves including their “likes.” Mine said “1960’s San Francisco psychedelic rock n roll.” That phrase that I wrote some 30 years ago made me pause and think, well what exactly is that? After all, the music of Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead and Sons of Champlin, to name just a few, don’t really sound all that much alike. And then I read a recent interview with Steve Kimock in which he said (and repeated this weekend at his June 4th in-store appearance at PosterScene in Boulder) “Music is the feeling you get when you listen to good music.” And that pretty much summed it up for me – the unifying theme of these bands is not necessarily their sound but the feelings they evoke in their listeners not least in part because of the experimental and improvisational nature of the music – especially when performed live. Much like the the rollercoaster of life itself, the music could go off the rails at any moment, it can be exciting, tense, and expectation-defying only to culminate in the relief, release and beauty of the safe landing. And it’s actually not the music of a particular time (like the 1960’s) or place (like San Francisco) at all, though certain physical and social contexts certainly portend its appearance. It’s the music of life that at its best can and has been hitting us since, as Kimock notes at the in-store appearance in Boulder, we were “monkeys in trees.”
Steve Kimock is often said to be a master of guitar and he is, but he’s also a master of emotional engineering – he plays music that makes you feel. And he has the ability to do it whether he is playing the role of lead guitarist in a rock ‘n’ roll dance band, as he has for much of his career, or whether he is playing solo using the various guitars and electronic sounds that were available to him in his barn in Pennsylvania as he does on his outstanding new release, Last Danger of Frost. His latest touring ensemble, called simply KIMOCK, played a three show run in Colorado, June 2nd through 4th in Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder respectively, showing audiences the full range of his evocative abilities while surrounded by a cast of virtuoso musicians: long-time collaborator and funkmeister Bobby Vega on bass; singer-songwriter Leslie Mendelson on keyboards, guitar and vocals; and on drums and electronics, Steve’s son John Morgan Kimock, a musician and composer in high demand who’s played most recently with the likes of Mike Gordon and Ryan Montbleau.
Although all three shows revolved around a core group of songs with several alternate selections being played each night, even those tunes that were repeated were rendered differently over each night. For example, although each show began with an acoustic improvisation leading into the raga-like “Surely This Day,” in Denver and Boulder the song was instrumental while at the middle show in Fort Collins, it featured beautiful vocals by Steve and Leslie. (Incidentally, Steve wrote “Surely This Day” for his two youngest sons. You can read the full story on the extensive Kimock-penned liner notes of Last Danger of Frost.) Similarly, “Fingernail Boogie,” an up-tempo steel guitar tune from the new album, was played all three nights but as a straight-on instrumental in Denver, with lyrics in Fort Collins, and with lyrics and Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” played by Vega as a bass solo in the middle of it in Boulder. One of the oldest songs of the run, “Golden Road,” which first appeared on an album put out by Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux’s Heart of Gold Band featuring Steve, Greg Anton and John Cipollina and later became a standard of their band Zero, was played in both Denver and Boulder, but with Bobby Vega’s bass song, “Poonk,” in the middle of it at the Boulder show. Three other welcome old tunes, originally from Zero days and the band KVHW (Kimock, Vega, Hertz and White), were “Tongue ‘n’ Groove,” that was rendered with a more acoustic-style laid back feel than in the past; “High and Lonesome,” which begins as a sweet melodic ballad, eventually morphing into a funked up rager; and “5 B4 Funk,” one of the few Steve Kimock compositions with word (not words but word, “wooo”). The John Morgan Kimock tune “Mother’s Song” was one I had heard several times back in 2009 with the Kimocks’ band Crazy Engine, but it has since matured and blossomed into a gorgeous mélange of the electric and the electronic. It’s a fantastic demonstration of Johnny’s growth as both a drummer-percussionist and a composer in his own right. A favorite from the early 2000’s, “Life of the Party” also reappeared much to the delight of fans. New songs in the repertoire featuring Leslie on lead vocals included “Careless Love,” “Satellite City,” which to me has a distinct New York flavor to it, and “Variation.” And then there are “Orson” and “Sagan,” danceable tunes cleverly built around the speaking voices of the title characters, Orson (Welles) and (Carl) Sagan. The former is particularly humorous as Welles tells the story of being invited to speak at a function and realizing part way into his story that he can’t remember how it ends. His musings about how he might escape from the situation seem to me to recall similar problems of the experimental improvisational bands mentioned previously (and including this one) and the challenges of finding the way back to the melody or ending of a song from the chaos of the jam. The three nights each ended with Steve’s new composition “My Favorite Number,” a complex up-tempo song in 5/4 time that also ends, Last Danger of Frost, as the closing song.
The three nights of KIMOCK also featured a fine roster of crowd-pleasing cover tunes. Bruce Cockburn’s “Waiting for a Miracle” (made famous by the Jerry Garcia Band) was breathtakingly beautiful and featured Leslie on sweet yet powerfully evocative vocals. It also saw her forgoing the keyboards to instead play Steve’s iconic Teak Cripe guitar while Kimock himself melted hearts bending the strings of his new, visually and sonically beautiful Scott Walker guitar. Other covers included The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down”; Ali Akbar Khan’s “Come Back My Love” (a personal favorite of mine rendered with a surf rock beat courtesy of John Morgan); Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately” (with backing vocals by Leslie’s “Pips” – Steve, Bobby and John Morgan); Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock”; the 1959 top 40 instrumental steel guitar song (yes there really was a top 40 instrumental steel guitar song!) by Santo and Johnny called, “Sleep Walk”; and the Grateful Dead’s “Crazy Fingers.”
No wrap-up of the KIMOCK Colorado run would be complete without a mention of Steve’s gregariousness, humor and openness this weekend. He engaged the audience frequently with stories of his life in Pennsylvania and California and notable past gigs, he joked with and told jokes to the audience, summoned up the ghosts of old friends past like Martin Fierro and John Cipollina, and even explained aspects of the similarities between parts of the natural world (calendrical cycles) and music (the Pythagorean comma). Overall, the weekend was one that left all in attendance with the feeling that Steve (and the whole band) really gave of themselves in a deep and personal way. Some have asked me about my favorite show of the weekend and my response has been “all of them!” – it was simply one of the most satisfying musical weekends I have experienced in a very long time. If you have the chance to see KIMOCK, this is an experience that should not be missed!
KIMOCK @ Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox Denver, CO 6-2-16
Set I: Steve Acoustic Solo>Surely This Day, Careless Love, Tongue ‘n’ Groove, Variation, Orson, 5 B4 Funk
Set II: Mother’s Song, Satellite City, Sagan, Fingernail Boogie, Waiting for a Miracle, My Favorite Number
Encore: Golden Road, Don’t Let Me Down
KIMOCK @ Aggie Theatre Fort Collins, CO 6-3-2016
Set I: Steve Acoustic (w/ JMK)>Surely This Day (w/vocals), Careless Love, High and Lonesome, Variation, Come Back My Love, Orson
Set II: Satellite City, Life of the Party, Bobby Bass Solo (for Muhammad Ali)>Fingernail Boogie>Manic Depression (Bobby Bass Solo)>Fingernail Boogie, Mother’s Song, Queen Jane Approximately, My Favorite Number
KIMOCK @ The Fox Theatre Boulder, CO 6-4-2016
Set I: Steve Solo Acoustic>Surely This Day, Careless Love, Crazy Fingers, Tongue ‘n’ Groove, Variation, Golden Road>Poonk>Golden Road, Orson
Set II: High and Lonesome, Sagan, Satellite City, Fingernail Boogie, Let It Rock, Waiting for a Miracle, My Favorite Number
Don’t miss KIMOCK on the next leg of their tour in support of Last Danger of Frost:
July 11 The Triple Door- Seattle
July 12 The Hive – Sandpoint, ID
July 13 The Wilma – Missoula, MT
July 15 Grand Targhee Resort- Alta, WY
July 16 The State Room – Salt Lake City, UT
Steve Kimock Bands’ classic CDs Live in Colorado and the double Live in Colorado Vol. 2 now available on iTunes!