When I first saw Steve Kimock in February at Stage 48, he had my head bobbing to some furious funk. Then he peeled back the top of my skull with a free-form improvised journey in the middle of a cover of "I Feel So Bad." So when I heard he'd be stopping by Brooklyn Bowl on his fall tour, I knew I had to go, even if I was getting sick. For this go-round, Kimock was accompanied by Bernie Worrell and John Morgan Kimock, reprising their roles on keys and drums, respectively, as well as Ron Johnson (Karl Denson's Tiny Universe) on bass, Ryan Cavanaugh on banjo, and Josh Dion on drums (both of Bill Evan's Soulgrass). The band took the stage without pageantry and eased into an atmospheric nebula. The gases solidified into the African guitar lines of "It's Up to You," which tinkled along brightly until Bernie ripped them open with some screechy Halloweenish sounds from the keys. Worrell proceeded to layer a p-funk groove on Johnson's backbone, and then I heard my new favorite sound: distorted electric banjo, compliments of Cavanaugh. (Check out the video below.) It was like finding a venomous snake slithering through your normal bluegrass. Kimock returned to Africa for the end, bringing the tune to its finale at 31 meandering minutes.
If the opening odyssey was any indication, it was clear that Steve and his friends were searching for something. While the first half-hour definitely had its moments, experimentation was favored over cohesiveness. Would they uncover a jam on the level of that revelatory mind-melter that spawned from "I Feel So Bad?" Set against the swirling lights on the brick walls of the Bowl, Bernie dropped into a slinky organ melody, teasing "Merrily We Roll Along" in the process. Steve switched to his Stratocaster and followed the funk into "TLC." After funking around, the band opted to show off its softer side with "Surely This Day." The calm didn't last long though, a storm emerging in the form of a tandem drum solo from John and Josh. Though hidden in the shadows, Dion was a treat to watch, his face contorting with each strike of the sticks. Following the drum jam, Cavanaugh stepped in with a couple of bluesy licks before turning out some distorted Hendrixian madness. An hour and eight minutes into the set, Bernie greeted us with the first vocals of the night, demanding, "Put your head into it," in "There's Gonna Be Butter." A bit of slide guitar from Steve invited Bernie to close out the set with the Funkadelic charger "Super Stupid." Kimock grabbed a mic and sat down on a stool in the center of the stage. "Oh, no. They gave the guitar player a microphone," he teased. "We'll be back after a short break."
The band returned for set two with "Thing One," which lasted almost 21 minutes, but it lost some steam as it went on. Steve strapped on his Strat again, revving up a juicy "5 B4 Funk" that had fans crying "Woo!" during the rests. Not merely an expression of excitement, it was a call to action for the Wizard of Woo to do his funky thang. Bernie rocketed to the moon with a sci-fi solo of laser blasts, licking at the air with his pink tongue. It was the highlight of the night, and Steve knew it, mouthing the final "Woo!" with the crowd. He moved to the slide guitar for a mournful "Many Rivers to Cross" that built into a triumphant crescendo. Bernie was anxious to get crossing those rivers, and fired up "Take Me to the River." He enlisted the audience to sing back to him, alternating between girls and guys, and brought everyone together for the last few rounds. "You guys are great! You're hired!" he smiled at its end.
The soundman signaled that it was over. With set two 25 minutes shorter than the previous excursion, the fans were eager for more, pleading to Steve, who looked like he wanted to continue. But time-wise, we were encroaching on ?uestlove's Thursday night Bowl Train DJ set. ?uest's voice came over the PA, re?uesting a round of applause for Kimock and Worrell before blasting out some thumping hip-hop. It was an awkward ending, especially because we were all still waiting for that next level shit. Hopefully we won't have to wait eight more months.
(Call to tapers: If anyone has a recording of the show, please let me know in the comments below.)