7 Walkers, Steve Kimock and Yarn @ Beekman Beer Garden, August 1
It’s been almost two years since the eponymous debut album from 7 Walkers arrived, and boy, does it hold up well to repeat listens: a swampy, humid, oddball curio collection of music that, to these ears, is the strongest, deepest studio release by any post-Jerry band featuring a surviving Grateful Dead member.
As a live unit, it’s taken them a little longer to fulfill that promise. Early 7 Walkers shows had the spark Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne and Bill Kreutzmann stumbled on as kindred musical spirits, but little fire, as the band was still feeling itself out, and Welbourne, especially, was finding his way around music that required a different guitar attack than perhaps he was used to. In 2009 and 2010, 7 Walkers shows were fun and rollicking, but also tentative; Welbourne, Kreutzmann, bass ace George Porter Jr. and multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard knew they had something that would transcend just a really interesting side project, but the improvisational potential was barely tapped.
What’s appeared to have happened over three years, however, is beautifully organic growth: a band gradually developed, fed and cared for and subtly adjusted, versus something thrust out there to prove a point. The 7 Walkers of 2012 sounds even less like a Dead band and more like the spicy, chunky gumbo of New Orleans swamp-rock, R&B and blues it was intended to be. It’s a band really opening up its originals and playing Dead tunes less out of obligation and more out of feel, with the transitions more spry, the pace more patient and groovy, and the jamming — especially the jamming — more confidently aware.
The Beekman Beer Garden set, about an hour and 40 minutes, was the Jerry 70th celebration, which meant some deference to Dead material, though the balance of Dead, New Orleans classics and 7 Walkers originals wasn’t much different than usual.
A near-10 minute psychedelic jam eventually birthed Mr. Charlie, and it was off they went, with a steady Sugaree highlighting the first half of the set, and a 25-minute run from Gilded Splinters into Bottle Up and Go, with Bernie Worrell aboard on keys, to anchor the second. All four members attacked improvisation at an unhurried pace – Hey Bo Diddle’s balance of taut progression and tension-expelling boogie, and the woozy peaks of Wharf Rat both primo examples. Worrell seemed to sense this as he slid in, and instead of his usual note-y fireworks favored a jazzier conversation with Porter (one of Worrell’s few peers in funk), and the role of colorist.
Worrell was the night’s MVP, sitting in with everybody while also playing the middle set with his good buddy Steve Kimock and a modified version of his 2012 band: bassist Andy Hess, and, instead of Wally Ingram, Kimock’s son and frequent collaborator, John Morgan Kimock on drums.
It was five songs — five quick adventures, really — all but one of them covers. But it, too, was something to savor, especially the starry-eyed climax of Stella Blue — Kimock drawing out all the lilting, hopeful peaks toward the end of the song with big, stretchy steel tones — and then a tight-pocket Take Me to the River, where it was Worrell and Hess that stole most of the improvisational thunder while the Kimocks grooved away. Steve himself didn’t join the Walkers’ set as hoped, but then, how often do you leave a Kimock show of any kind un-sated? No one else quite gets inside a composition, coaxes, never forces, its jammy possibilities and leaves a finish as rich and resonant as peaty scotch.
The 7pm start time and cumbersome location meant a sparser gathering for early opener Yarn, but if you weren’t there, you missed one the East Coast’s best Americana up-and-comers — one with on-point rhythms, solid jamming chops and a comfortably unpretentious vibe. The set was a good sampling of their originals, including New York City Found, though they, too, nodded to the day with a capable Friend of the Devil boosted by Worrell on keys. Catch ‘em.
Set: Jam > Mr. Charlie, King Cotton Blues, (For the Love Of) Mr. Okra, Sugaree, Hey Bo Diddle, Big Railroad Blues, Wharf Rat, Walk On Gilded Splinters* > Bernie jam* > bass jam* > Bottle Up and Go*
Encore: He’s Gone
* w/Bernie Worrell
STEVE KIMOCK & FRIENDS
Set: Red Hot Mama > Come Together > Tangled Hangers, Stella Blue, Take Me to the River
Set: Annie, When You’re Down on Your Luck, New York City Found, Music’s Only Outlaw, Friend of the Devil*, Bad Bad Man*
* w/Bernie Worrell