Jeff Chementi (L) and Steve Kimock in NYC March 10th on the opening night of Kimock's Jerry Garcia Tribute shows

Jeff Chementi (L) and Steve Kimock in NYC March 10th on the opening night of Kimock’s Jerry Garcia Tribute shows (courtesy Steve Kimock)

By Steve Houk

Just walking by Gypsy Sally’s last night, you only had to glance around, or take a deep sniff, to know what was goin’ down.

If there was ever a crowd on hand that definitively said “Jerry” just by their appearance and demeanor, last night’s sold out crowd at DC’s Gypsy Sally’s was one of those, for sure. From the dreadlocked wish-I’d-seen-the-real-thing youngsters, to the many renderings of Jerry on hats, shirts, coats and tats, to the multiple bunches of 40-60 somethings (mostly guys) who’d seen their share of Dead shows and wanted yet another journey back in time, it was a lovingly dedicated throng clearly elated to be part of a night chock full of Jerry Garcia-tinged music. Oh, and lest we forget that skunky smell wafting down the street and even throughout the venue, which clearly cemented the coveted Dead vibe.

But these packed-in fans weren’t there just to get closer to Jerry, they were there to hear these players do Jerry. On the second night of a short Northeast swing for his Jerry Garcia Tribute show (they play Baltimore tonight), superb veteran (and Grateful Dead friendly) guitarist Steve Kimock led a group of familiar top shelf musicians through a stellar set of tunes that had the Dead-loving crowd swaying, bopping, smiling and singing along like it was 1978. Kimock has done these Jerry-themed shows before, and judging by the performance and crowd reaction, this one had to rate among his best.

From the opening riffs of  Hank Ballard’s “Tore Up Over You” (which Kimock introduced to start the show by saying, “Someone asked us to rock, so we will”) to the Garcia Band fave encore of “Mystery Train,” Kimock and Company once again did major justice to not only the music, but the feel of Garcia’s music. They never rushed the songs along, they seemed precise yet fluid in their presentation. On this night, Garcia’s songs (and those of others like Dylan, JJ Cale and The Beatles) were clearly being performed by a group of musicians who both knew and revered the music they were playing and could reproduce it with pinpoint accuracy and homage to the real thing, while also injecting their own endless supply of finesse to the songs.

Two Dead standards, “Bird Song” and “Sugaree” were first set highlights and most reminiscent of the “scene,” with the latter building slowly from a sweet shuffle to a wailing Kimock guitar-led jam. Keyboardist Jeff Chementi, who has certainly played his share of Godchaux/Mydland/Hornsby/Seals riffs many times before, was in typically stellar form, massaging the Hammond B3 with his typical golden nuances. His presence and talent connected the sounds together throughout the evening like a weaver’s thread. Guitarist/vocalist Dan Lebowitz more than competently channeled Garcia’s vocals and provided the most direct path to Garcia’s personality, and as usual, longtime Kimock cohort Bobby Vega held the deep end up wonderfully on bass. And the two pronged drum corps of former Garcia bandmate Bill Vitt and Kimock’s talented son John kept the beats perfectly behind this group of solid vets. But the band is clearly Kimock’s, and he never dissapoints, whether it’s playing Jerry riffs or during some of his improvisational moments. It’s really his talent that helps make these kinds of shows way more than just nostalgia revisits, he breathes an energy and professionalism into the music that many other Dead-related bands sometimes struggle to reach.

Set two included Deadhead faves “Bertha” and “Stella Blue” and an always pleasing “After Midnight”/”Eleanor Rigby”/”After Midnight” sequence that elated the already Jerried out crowd, which included Dark Star Orchestra founding member John Kadlecik, who of late as been holding down a residency at the club every Tuesday playing full JGB sets in their entirety. Judging by his Facebook post from this morning that said,”Had a great time seeing Steve Kimock and Friends tear it up last night,” you knew it had to be a good performance to impress someone so deeply familiar with Garcia’s music.

All in all, Steve Kimock has once again used his talent and camraderie to breathe life into the Garcia legend.

Here’s the show.

Set 1: Tore Up Over You – Takes a Lot to Laugh Takes a Train to Cry – Bird Song – Expressway to Your Heart (inst) – He Ain’t Give You None – Sugaree // Set 2: Like a Road – Bertha – After Midnight->Eleanor Rigby->After Midnight – Stella Blue (inst) – Deal // E: Mystery Train


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