Mason Jennings/Zach Gill | 11.13 | S.F.

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Words by: Jillian Horn

Mason Jennings & Zach Gill :: 11.13.08 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA


Mason Jennings from myspace.com/masonjennings
The historic Fillmore was the place to be last Thursday evening for a welcoming mix of old-fashioned entertainment and contemporary reflection, as folk artist Mason Jennings performed tracks from all depths of his lengthy catalogue. On the surface, his songs appear identifiable without complication – just a storyteller with his guitar. However, the essence of Jennings comes through this simplicity, all wrapped together in biting, satirical commentaries describing the follies of hot modern issues, such as religion, war and leadership.

Jennings has been on tour since mid-September supporting his most recent release, In the Ever, which contains more daring, highly political tracks than any previous records. His choice to hit the road this season was extremely well timed, and unlike other artists who toured relentlessly, screaming what choices we should or should not make, Jennings appeared like a fresh breath of air. He suggests that you listen closely, but never demands that you like him or even agree with his words, as his subdued demeanor remains solidly present to welcome in all open ears.

Supporting Jennings for this tour is Zach Gill, who can typically be found performing as lead vocalist of ALO or supporting his friend Jack Johnson. Fresh off his solo debut, Zach Gill’s Stuff, it was clear that Gill has already mastered the art of performance and grabbed the attention of a curious audience right from the start. He appeared humbled and modest while gliding through his eclectically themed collection of songs, with highlights including “Poseidon’s Navel” and “Handy Man.” He brought in an element of humor that was reminiscent of a street performer, and as he switched from the keyboards to the squeezebox he made sure to change his hat and persona. Gill has visibly grown both publicly as a performer and privately as an individual; his themes (when not exploring time travel) proudly display his family and life as a father, allowing for a grateful innocence to capture the hearts of those who looked on.

Zach Gill from www.myspace.com/zachgill
Once nine o’clock arrived and the crowd was well warmed, Jennings emerged prepared and casual, guitar in hand, ready to address both his diehards and new listeners. He opened acoustically with the upbeat, metaphorical “Memphis, Tennessee,” painting a scene of a love based on opposites. Soon after, he plugged in his guitar and was joined by the remainder of his band. Through both slow songs and fast, Jennings modestly remained in place behind the safety of his guitar, lost in his words like he was singing each for the very first time.

His voice, at times sounding like a folkier Lou Reed, delivers like an atypical instrument; while not particularly loud and commanding, it is neither timid nor unclear. His middle-of-the-road delivery works largely in his favor, allowing for the establishment of instant trust and the audience to hang on his every word.

A definite highlight to the performance was “California (Part II),” a track found on his 1996 self-titled debut, which effortlessly and pleasantly describes the beauty of Northern California, which sat especially well with the crowd and drew one of the night’s biggest responses.

Still high from the hope of a “Yes We Can” victory, the tone of the evening was celebratory and buzzing during the most political songs from his latest release, such as “Soldier Boy” and the Katrina-inspired “Going Back to New Orleans.” This was also the case for the popular “I Love You and Buddha Too,” where Jennings professes his love to a multitude of religions in a catchy, sing-along manner, rationalizing each and questioning those who question otherwise.

Mason Jennings from myspace.com/masonjennings
Jennings made sure to balance the serious with the silly, all the while remaining socially relevant. Towards the end of his performance, he returned to his initial solo set-up for “Your New Man,” a ridiculing bash of an ex-girlfriend’s cheesy new love, right before diving into anecdotes about volcanoes and the dangers of driving while you text.

The show’s conclusion found both Jennings’ band and Zach Gill onstage in full force with a restored energy. The bunch performed the hit track “Fighter Girl” as well as Gills’ popular “Don’t Touch My Stuff,” ending the night with an electric bang. They expressed their gratitude for San Francisco and their supporters, addressing the amazing diversity of young and old, white collars and tie-dyes, all found under one roof and smiling.

If anything, Jennings’ music can perhaps serve as testament to the new state of America, where change is necessary and all can truly stand hand in hand. The night was restorative to the souls of his fans, addressing the past but encouraging the future.

Mason Jennings is on tour now, dates available here.

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