Words by: Justin Gillett | Images by: Nitai Vinitzky
Kyle Hollingsworth & Zach Gill :: 10.10.09 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident and Zach Gill of ALO joining forces to tour as co-headliners (almost the jam equivalent of a Billy Joel and Elton John tour) was an opportunity to watch two pivotal keyboardists perform material from their respective main bands, work from their solo endeavors, and explore a few covers as well. With remarkable talent and a relaxed vibe, both Hollingsworth and Gill rocked The Independent in San Francisco and brought out a few surprise guests to add to the show's unique, spontaneous quality.
Gill opened the show and spent the first half of his set alone onstage - often playing an accordion or ukulele – crooning into the microphone and characteristically swaying back and forth. Covering the severely overplayed MGMT smash hit "Kids," Gill demonstrated his knack for turning pop laden tunes into heartfelt semi-ballads. The MGMT cover turned out alright, although the song is so cliché by now that his decision to cover it arrived a year too late. Another cover featured the Charlie Daniels classic "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," which again saw Gill manning the squeeze box.
After performing a few songs solo, Gill was joined by ALO band mate Dan Lebowitz, who did a killer job on lap steel guitar before leaving the stage. Lebo's departure signaled three new musicians to come out. Bassist Garrett Sayers, guitarist Dan Schwindt, and drummer Dave Watts came out and would stay to help support Hollingsworth as well. Playing together as a foursome, it was clear that this ensemble was little more than Gill playing with backing musicians. The songs sounded fine, but in terms of the free flow of musical ideas between performers, it just wasn't happening. This was not a band in the true sense of the word, more just hired guns performing with a musician who isn't playing with his usual band.
The entirety of Gill's usual band, ALO, did end up getting onstage to play with the three other supporters. Dave Brogan (drummer) played keys, Steve Adams (bassist) picked up a hand drum, and Lebo returned to the steel guitar. Playing a few songs as this massive machine, the seven musicians traded solos and seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves as they played a few songs that might become future ALO tunes. Two songs – one about zombies and another called "Limbs Akimbo," which Gill co-wrote with Hot Buttered Rum's Nat Keefe and is the title cut to HBR's latest album – stuck out in particular.
| Zach Gill | 10.10 | San Francisco|
During Gill's set it was surprising that Hollingsworth didn't poke his head out to heighten the jam. Perhaps he thought holding out his musical bag of tricks for his set would be a good idea. When Hollingsworth did come out to play with the three supporting musicians all doubts of the backing band not being able to keep-up were put to rest. When Sayers, Schwindt, and Watts played with Gill they seemed to be slightly out of touch, but with Hollingsworth they were more comfortable and able to bring the music to unforeseen ranges. Hollingsworth's opener, "Seventh Step," was jammed with such professionalism that comparisons to String Cheese Incident couldn't be helped. And after hearing a few Cheese tunes like "¡Bam!" and "Boo Boo's Picnic," it was almost as if Cheese was playing.
Hollingsworth was in his element and he played with unbridled passion expressed through facial expressions. Unlike many musicians, Hollingsworth really seems to be genuinely enjoying himself when he plays. This performance was no exception – Hollingsworth appeared to be extremely content and jubilant playing with his solo band. Part of his enjoyment could have been because he really was the maestro of the show. He didn't have to contend with any other artists butting in and putting in their two cents. Hollingsworth was in command, which was evident. His backing musicians, while displaying great ability in their own right, never stepped on the proverbial musical toes of the keyboardist.
| Hollingsworth & Gill | 10.10 | San Francisco|
Picking a guitar player to tour with must have been a difficult decision for Hollingsworth, but choosing Schwindt was defiantly a good call. The electric guitar slinger was able to cover the bases when it came to providing tones well suited to Hollingsworth's playing, and when soloing Schwindt was on fire. He played with such range and expertise that his talent seemed to rival Hollingsworth's own.
Seeing Gill waiting on the side stage as Hollingsworth and his band closed out their set - which included a range of solo and Cheese material, as well as an interesting reggae rendering of Paul Simon's "Kodachrome" - one got the impression that the keyboardists would be playing together during the encore. When Gill was inevitably invited onstage, the crowd was blown away as the twosome played an amazing few songs sharing a workstation and microphone. They tore apart The Beatles' "A Day in the Life," Talking Heads' "This Must be the Place," and Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round in Circles (the last two being String Cheese favorites). A stunning way to end an amazing evening.
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