Zero, the seminal Bay Area jam band formed in the early ’80s by guitarist Steve Kimock and drummer Greg Anton, played a rare four-show run in the Pacific Northwest over the weekend. Following shows at The Stone Cold Hemp Barn in Jacksonville, OR (a last-minute addition to the run) and Neptune Theater in Seattle, WA, the band stopped at Portland, OR’s Aladdin Theater on Friday and delivered a thrilling two-set performance ahead of the run closer at Eugene, OR’s Wow Hall.
Friday’s show drew a crowd of younger hippie types and older fans eager to relive the band’s glory days. The venue was slow to fill but reached capacity by the end of the first set despite competition from George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, who were playing with The Motet, Fishbone, and Pimps of Joytime downtown.
Excited fans dotted the theater’s balcony, floor seats, and GA standing room in front of the stage as the band emerged promptly at 8:05. The crowd offered a welcoming cheer as trumpeter Hadi Al Saadoon tuned his horn to the pitch of Spencer Burrows‘ keyboard, and they erupted when Steve Kimock began strumming the first chords of the night while Greg Anton got situated behind the drum kit. He picked up a set of mallets and played crescendoing cymbal swells while Pete Sears waded gently into the mix with deep bass tones to complement Kimock’s soaring leads, which began to take flight overtop Burrows’ organ.
After working through the chord progression, the band members laid back as Kimock led them into “Cole’s Law”, a solid instrumental first set opener and the first track on Zero’s recent live release, Naught Again (which appears on Live For Live Music‘s most recent Monthly Mix playlist). The opening jam was characterized by dramatic build-ups and climactic resolutions, which the ensemble navigated as a cohesive unit with Kimock at its helm.
Each soloist seemed to ride a wave of energy that would crest at its loudest point before dropping back down and starting again. The crowd reacted enthusiastically each time the band settled back down together, rather than at the climax. The magic really started to unfold, though, once Kimock took the lead. The first notes of his solo immediately captured the audience’s attention, and the band grew tighter as it locked into his infallible feel.
Zero – “Cole’s Law” – 7/29/22
Next came “Tangled Hangers”, another Zero classic featured on Naught Again. The tune showcased Zero’s jazz roots as Al Saadoon played a trumpet solo supported by Burrow’s complex chord voicings. Kimock meanwhile exercised his rhythm guitar skills, joining in with some syncopated comping of his own.
After some exploratory improvisation, the band returned to the head of the tune, eliciting cheers from the crowd, but Kimock wasn’t done pushing the song to its limits yet. He launched the group into an even spacier avant garde jam featuring atonal wanderings and Trey Anastasio-like whale calls.
The abstract segment was held together by Anton’s flowing rhythm, which had a balanced mix of groove and spontaneity. Sears played up the song’s jazz feel, tilting his bass guitar up and fingering the middle of the neck like an upright bass player. A mini drum solo from Anton riled up the crowd before the band struck the song’s final note.
Zero – “Tangled Hangers” – 7/29/22
Two songs into the first set, the band still had not said a word on the mic. That changed as Zero played “Chance In A Million”, the night’s first song with lyrics, which were sung by Spencer Burrows. After forming as a purely instrumental ensemble, Zero started incorporating lyrics by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter in the early ’90s and enlisted powerhouse blues singer Judge Murphy to sing with the band. Burrows did an excellent job taking over for Murphy, who passed away in 2013, with Sears and Al Saadoon providing backing vocals on the tune.
Zero – “Chance In A Million” – 7/29/22
Some sax-like squawks from Kimock’s guitar signaled the start of the next tune, “Pits of Thunder”, which featured powerful vocals by Burrows. Al Saadoon accentuated the song’s driving rhythm with cowbell as the band went into a funky James Brown-esque jam after the second chorus. Special guest saxophonist Duke Davis and Steve Kimock helped raise the energy of the jam with some high-impact improv before the band dropped into a more modern-sounding funk groove reminiscent of Lettuce or the Disco Biscuits.
Kimock prodded Al Saadoon to take a trumpet solo as the jam bounced back and forth between a sophisticated jazz feel and a funky four-on-the-floor house groove. Burrows then entered to sing the song’s final chorus, and the band capped the tune with a Bo Diddley-style ending.
“Home On The Range”, the last song of set one, once again evoked the spirit of the late Judge Murphy with a soulful vocal performance from Burrows. Duke’s sax solo after the second chorus brought the jam to a high point before the band dropped down in volume for the third verse and final chorus. Burrows signaled for the audience to clap on two and four during the song’s hard rocking outro, which swelled into cacophonic chaos that resolved with the song’s final hits.
After a brief set break, Zero returned to the stage before a packed crowd and kicked off set two with “Anorexia (Is Not For Everyone)”, an instrumental funk jam that took on a slight reggae feel. The song featured an extended trumpet solo, after which Kimock brought the jam to altitude with a soaring solo before a strong closing head.
Zero – “Anorexia (Is Not For Everyone)” – 7/29/22
Anton and Sears got the next tune going with a jungle rhythm that ultimately gave way to “Gregg’s Eggs”, another fan favorite instrumental. The band went out on a psychedelic limb as it rode a wave of collective energy, building up and then descending into open water before Kimock brought the whole thing back to the main melody.
Zero – “Gregg’s Eggs” – 7/29/22
Next came “Baby, Baby”, which opened with a rocking guitar melody and punchy horns. Kimock took control of the ship with commanding leads and used subtle cues to communicate with the band, like a tap on his bandana to signal the head of the tune. At one point, the group laid back to give Sears space for his first real bass solo of the night, which led into a four-on-the-floor groove. After a funky sax solo and some far-out guitar improvisation, Anton dropped out and the music boiled over in a bubbling psychedelic stew. Kimock returned to the main melody, and the crowd erupted as the band pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of finishing the song together.
Next, Kimock and Duke played the main melody of “Theme from Nancy Germany” in unison. The song was upbeat and straightforward in comparison to the band’s deep explorations. Then came “Horses”, the first vocal tune of the second set. “Horses” opened with dreamy guitar and piano as Kimock and Burrows went back and forth in a musical dialogue.
Zero – “Theme from Nancy Germany” – 7/29/22
Zero wrapped up set two with “Golden Road”, a funky instrumental not to be confused with the Grateful Dead song “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)”. Burrows took an organ solo that established the song’s gospel rock feel and got the crowd on their feet. Kimock took it home with a guitar solo and invited the rest of the band to join him on the main melody before relaxing into atmospheric improv that was complemented by sweeping tropical-colored lights. The band slowly ramped back up to a rocking groove to finish the song, and the crowd roared as Zero waved goodbye and exited the stage.
Zero – “Golden Road” – 7/29/22
Unwilling to let the night end so soon, the audience cheered in anticipation of an encore, and after a brief break, Zero took the stage once more. Steve Kimock broke out his lap steel guitar and Duke Davis picked up his soprano sax both for the first time of the night. Kimock started gently strumming through the chords of “Many Rivers to Cross” as members of the audience shushed each other to be quiet and listen.
The ballad featured a soprano sax solo from Duke, after which the band ducked down in volume and Kimock played a rapturous guitar solo. Burrows seized his final moment in the spotlight with an organ solo, and Kimock capped the evening with one last solo on lap steel utilizing a psychedelic wah-wah effect.
Thirty years after helping to define what it means to be a jam band, Zero can still “put the whammy on the crowd,” as Robert Hunter put it. The lineup may be different, and the audience may be older, but the music never stopped. “I’ve seen a lot of crowds in my life,” Robert Hunter said, “but they can do something that I’ve never seen before.” His words ring true, even in 2022.
Zero recently announced a run of fall tour dates on the East Coast. The band will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Chance In a Million concerts featured on Naught Again and 1994’s Chance In a Million with a special performance at The Fillmore in San Francisco, CA on October 15th. The double-vinyl edition of Naught Again will be available on September 2nd.
View a list of Zero’s upcoming tour dates below, and to find more information and purchase tickets, visit the band’s website.
Zero 2022 Tour
10.15.22 The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA
10.27.22 Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY
10.28.22 Ardmore Music Hall – Ardmore, PA
10.29.22 Sherman Theater – Stroudsburg, PA
10.30.22 Baltimore Soundstage – Baltimore, MD
11.02.22 Bearsville Theater – Woodstock, NY
11.03.22 Infinity Music Hall and Bistro – Hartford, CT
11.04.22 The Cabot – Beverly, MA
11.05.22 The Flying Monkey Grill Bar – Plymouth, NH
11.06.22 The Double E – Essex Junction, VT
12.02.22 George’s Majestic Lounge – Fayetteville, AK
12.03.22 George’s Majestic Lounge – Fayetteville, AK
12.04.22 George’s Majestic Lounge – Fayetteville, AK
Setlist: Zero | Aladdin Theater | Portland, OR | 7/29/22
Set One: Cole’s Law, Tangled Hangers, Chance in a Million, Pits of Thunder, Home on the Range
Set Two: Anorexia (Is Not For Everyone), Gregg’s Eggs, Baby, Baby, Theme from Nancy Germany, Horses, Golden Road
Encore: Many Rivers to Cross