A new archival title revives interest in the legendary Dead-centric Bay Area supergroup
Formed in the early ‘80s by guitarist Steve Kimock and drummer Greg Anton — former members of Keith and Donna Godchaux’s Heart Of Gold Band — Zero included any number of Bay Area veteran all-stars.
Among the names include legendary keyboardist Nicky Hopkins (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who), keyboardist Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship), guitarist John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service), bassist John Kahn (Jerry Garcia Band) and keyboardist Vince Welnick (The Tubes, Grateful Dead).
With the surviving members currently opting to regroup, Zero plans to start touring later this year. To mark the occasion, they’ve chosen to release an archival live album, cleverly titled Naught Again, culling the material from two shows recorded in October, 1992 at San Francisco’s renowned emporium, The Great American Music Hall. Although one of the aforementioned performances was released in 1994 as Chance In A Million, the other set remained completely unreleased until now.
Album: Naught Again
Label: Omnivore Recordings
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
While most of the tracks are instrumental in the jam band tradition, as established by the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver, Pink Floyd, the Allman Brothers Band, and other outfits that took flight in seminal ‘60s fashion, albeit with a jazzier sound that comes courtesy of tenor sax player Martin Fierro. In another tie to that tradition, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter not only introduced the band before this particular performance, but also added his verse to some of its songs.
With nine studio albums to their credit, the band obviously had plenty of material to choose from, but they also managed to tap a couple of choice covers, the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and the Jimi Hendrix standard, “Little Wing.” Not surprisingly considering the all exceptional talents that were involved, all offerings accurately represent the virtuosity immersed in this supergroup of sorts. Several selections — “Cole’s Law,” “Interlude,” “Golden Road,” and “Tangled Hangers” in particular — offer the players opportunity to stretch out in a mostly unhurried manner while settling into a bluesy groove that offers more than an occasional hint of both funk and frenzy.
It’s a soulful, yet sprawling approach, as reconciled within a sound flush with a certain fusion-esque finesse.
Consequently each musician is given opportunity to spotlight a solo, and while that naturally leads to lengthy excursions, it also allows for a generally slow, if steady, build, one which finds the entire ensemble performing solidly in sync.
VIDEO: Omnivore Presents Zero Naught Again
That said, the second CD accelerates the momentum to a more noticeable degree, aided by the familiarity factor that would naturally accompany the aforementioned covers choices. Opening track “Gregg’s Egg’s” begins on a cosmic note similar to one of the Dead’s early space jams, as shared on Aoxomoxa and Anthem of the Sun.
With the anthemic opening of “Baba O’Riley,” the proceedings are brought back to earth by a near note-for-note read of the original, at least early on. They take greater liberties with “Little Wing,” using it to initiate the set’s cerebral send-off, courtesy of a final benediction from Robert Hunter and the tracks that follow, the soaring “Test Tags Off Mattresses” and the mellow one-two coda, “Roll Me Over” and “Roll Me After.”
Granted, Naught Again will mostly appeal to those who still hold a fondness for the sonic psychedelia that spurred so many flights of fantasy during the late ‘60s.
In a very real way then, Zero brings it back to — where else? — ground zero.