For having played in so many Grateful Dead-family bands, Steve Kimock’s true talent as a guitarist lies in the subtlety and nuances of his playing.
Rarely during the hour-and-45-minute concert Friday at Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks in Bethlehem – part of the venue’s free concert summer series – of Kimock’s new eponymously named group did Kimock make his guitar cry or scream.
Rather, his playing – while distinctive – was part of an overall presentation of the music. He often took a back seat to his quartet’s other players – most often singer Leslie Mendelson and her Shania Twain-sound-alike voice. Or the aggressive, impressively intuitive playing on Kimock’s son, John on drums.
That was the case on the opening song, a cover of The Grateful Dead’s “My Sisters and Brothers,” when a seated Kimock (that’s how he played most of the night) simply added flavor to Mendelson’s performance.
Several of the 10 songs the band performed were from its upcoming EP, which based on the selections played Friday will be a collection of atmospheric, ambient, mostly instrumentals.
The jazzy “Sagan” included a voiceover snippet of the late scientist Carl Sagan. “Careless Love,” one of the few new songs to include vocals, had a slow, intense country vibe amid its floating composition. On it, Kimock played a searing resonator guitar.
Even The Grateful Dead’s “Crazy Fingers” was spacier, though Kimock’s guitar was very Jerry Garcia-like, with a stark-noted improvised solo late in the song.
Kimock’s guitar came more to the forefront of the songs later in the show, with perhaps his best solo work on a very jammy, unnamed mid-show song that included a voiceover soliloquy of the late actor Orsen Wells – appropriately talking about improvised speech.
And he opened up on the old Steve Kimock Band’s “Five B4 Fire,” during which the audience dutifully shouted the song’s only lyric – “Wooo!”
And even on another late-show song when Kimock did have something close to a guitar-god run, it was sympathetic.
Kimock, a Bethlehem native, clearly was enjoying his return to the city.
“Look at this!” he said at the start of the show, referring to the Levitt lawn packed with more than 2,000 people, a good number of whom stood at the front of the stage as you would expect a jam-band crowd to. “I was kind of worried. I thought ‘Is anybody going to show up to this thing?’ Then I thought, ‘It’s free.’
“It’s good to be back for a minute. I still love it here.”
He also commented on the Bethlehem Steel stacks that hover over the Levitt stage, saying that as a young man, he though the factory “could only last forever.’ Then I went off and did the music thing.” And now as a 61-year-old, Kimock said, “Not surprisingly, it’s the music that lasts.”
He closed his main set by telling the crowd, “It really is home.”
For an encore, the band returned for a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Waiting for a Miracle,” with Mendelson in front of the band singing and actually playing guitar.
Behind her, there was the precision-point sympathetic sound of a richer guitar.
That was Steve Kimock.