There was a time when seeing Steve Kimock play was an exploration in delicate psychedelia -- when the entire audience would gracefully join him in weaving through his complex compositions and he seemed like the only logical heir to embrace Jerry Garcia's once fabled guitar tone. That time however‚ is not 2012. The NorCal Mecca of Arcata gets about 3 quality concerts a year‚ and thus the heads came out of the redwood-work in full force for this show. In terms of per capita ratios‚ this crowd was probably more learned in the Kimock back catalogue than any you're bound to encounter anywhere in the world‚ let alone California. Fiending for the transient licks and familiar melodies that had once spawned a myriad of self-spun ruminations‚ and also looking for launch-box fulfillment to accentuate pre-show medications‚ the folks at Humbrews were beaming with expectations. Unfortunately‚ SKB didn't seem to take the stage this night -- rather it was the Bernie Worrell Band featuring Steve Kimock on rhythm guitar.
Of course nobody in their right mind is going to deny that having the legendary Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist on stage is a bad thing‚ but Kimock seemed to use Bernie's presence as an excuse to negate his own bandleader duties. Rather than slashing his way through his own other-worldly tunes‚ much of the two sets fell back on simplistic reggae covers on which Steve appeared to forget that they desperately needed a guitar solo. Sure‚ "54-46" is a fun song to dance to‚ but I never expected any setlist crossovers between Kimock Band and Sublime with Rome. As a matter of fact‚ the only original from his past repertoire that I or anybody else recognized was "5 B4 Funk‚" and still this found the axe-wizard playing uncharacteristically timid. Every time you both hoped and expected for the incendiary finger-work that once was undeniably mesmerizing‚ Kimock would step back and let Worrell take control. Near the end of the night‚ an instrumental take on "Many Rivers to Cross" with Steve standing up on the lap steel portended for one last glimpse of subtle elegance‚ but sadly this too seemed to fall flat and lifeless. One could point fingers at the overly talkative audience for this drop in hallowed attention‚ but any predisposed awe had already been thrown out the window by then. A closing take on the Talking Heads version of "Take Me to the River" only confirmed that this was far from the band everyone was expecting to see.
The list of legendary musicians that have shared the stage with this guitarist over the years is both impressive and quite extensive. And while this quartet can definitely hold their own‚ the smirk-heavy session bassist‚ Andy Hess‚ is no match for the likes of Bobby Vega. Regardless of the lineup though‚ no combo of artists on stage should ever fully damper the prowess of the band's namesake‚ yet something was clearly holding Kimock back. Sure‚ if you had zero prior knowledge of what is capable of arising from the man's guitar‚ you would have been quite content with the sound coming off the stage. But while the quartet held a tight pocket all night‚ the biggest problem with the evening was that Steve Kimock had no interest in being Steve Kimock.