Zach Gill (photo: Joshua Huver)
On Wednesday, August 15, multi-instrumentalist and man of many hats Zach Gill played the first of five consecutive nights for his Tour of The Multiverse at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.
Before he hits the road with his other bands in two weeks — a handful of Jack Johnson dates are more or less bookended by a handful of ALO festivals — Gill is committing to a vision he’s been curating for months. In conjunction with his third solo album, Life In The Multiverse, Gill has constructed an immersive and captivating psychedelic safari through his mind.
Walking into the Kuumbwa, the stage was scarcely set. From stage left, there was an overhead projector, an animatronic Elvis head that moved at its own pace, and a keyboard setup. Near the rear of the stage, a coat rack holding several hats while various handheld instruments were hidden out of sight.
“We’re wearing lab coats because this is an experiment,” Gill said as he took the stage. Gill set up a program on his keyboard while his two lab assistants, Dr. Ethan and Dr. Ryan, got into place to man the projector. While Gill sang and played guitar, they would punctuate the lyrics via silhouette storytelling.
Gill and his onstage assistants began the show with three takes from Life in the Multiverse: “Up From Down Below,” “Ride This Sucker Out,” and “Chuck and The Nomads.” With plenty of storytelling and general merry-making between songs, Gill also made several attempts to elaborate or warn the audience about his vision for the concerts.
What a better time and place to conduct such an experiment than a Wednesday night in Santa Cruz? The first thing he was convinced of was that he wanted to build a portal. His friends were confused, but supportive as Gill bounced ideas off of them. Gill explains his thought process, nearly abandoning the portal idea and eventually bringing the audience into a brainstorming session for the exposition of the evening, thus his transition into the “emotional crux” of the evening. The portal was still ahead.
“Watch Them Grow” from his 2008 debut solo effort, Zach Gill’s Stuff and “The World Is New (An Ode to the Father of a Teenage Daughter)” were followed by a new song about likes, selfies, and social media. It was a bluesy song dripping with Gill’s witticisms and improvisation. Check it out below:
The emotional weight of the strained relationships that our lives endure lifted people out of their seats as Gill performed the ALO tune “Family.” That lighthearted spirit continued, as Gill pulled a fan into the spotlight, literally, to wear one of Zach’s hats.
As Gill performed “The Legend of the Narwhal,” the fan danced around the the room with a narwhal hat on. And in true Zach Gill fashion, the “horn” (it’s actually a tooth) glowed like a lightsaber.
Also from 2008’s Stuff came “Handyman.” As the final song of the set, before the portal finally came into the spotlight, a pulsating drum beat punctuated by mouth trumpeting and a melodica jam gave an interesting glimpse at act two.
The projector remained a prominent point of delivery for the portal, but it gave way to so much more. Replacing the cut-out silhouettes was a much more ambiguous and even more mentally stimulating old-school, oil-and-water liquid light show.
Before leaving the keyboard and picking up his accordion, Gill had to finesse his portal into shape. The second set opened with a triple-cover medley beginning with “La Isla Bonita.” The Madonna track segued into “Take On Me” and ended with “Bohemian Raphsody.”
After the trio of covers, Gill returned to the keyboard using modulating effects to deepen and raise the pitch of his voice at will. After an extended intro, he moved into the non-album track “My Shadow and Me”. Despite being 8pm on a Wednesday, a dance party started to emerge in the audience during “Joy,” a song about getting rid of the guilt in your guilty pleasures.
As the psychedelic safari through the portal proceeded, it became apparent that a new device was being introduced. As Gill performed on his keyboard, dots, lines, and configurations of multicolored light — corresponding to the notes he played — appeared, took shape, and then disappeared over the projector screen.
“Solstice 2016” and “Beautiful Reason” led into another page from the ALO songbook, “I Love Music” from 2009’s Man of the World. “I Love Music” devolved into as much dancing you can squeeze out of a seated Wednesday evening show in Santa Cruz as Gill dropped into a Chorus and verse of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” to end the second set. For the encore, Gill ended with a quick and poignant tune from Life in the Multiverse called “Alchemy.”