Three Thursdays in November; Three musical milestones for the Crazy Horse Saloon. The most recent of the bunch finds us searching for superlatives yet again. From the moment the show was announced two months ago, anticipation for the Kyle Hollingsworth Band blazed like a comet on its path to impact. Earlier in the week, KVMR public radio decided to stream a live broadcast, drawing even more attention to the event. Droves of people pleaded for tickets to no avail. The show had sold out a month ago. As the countdown to showtime began, I contemplated a question which in hindsight seems silly: “Is all this hype warranted?”
We’d already hosted a few of our best shows ever in the previous weeks. Hollingsworth had some tough acts to follow. Even with his pedigree as the keyboard wizard from String Cheese Incident, was he up to the task of blowing everyone’s minds? Certainly he was capable, but this was the first show of his band’s tour. Would they need some time to ease in to the groove? Had he grown complacent from too many years of automatic adulation with SCI? The answers to these questions were all forthcoming as the clock struck 10:30pm on Friday, November 19.
I’m not typically an advocate for opening bands. Fans are usually there to see the headliner. They tend to arrive late and miss the opener or don’t really care enough to pay attention. Such was not the case with Ideateam from Sacramento. You had to hand it to them simply for the feat of fitting nine people on our little stage. When their sultry wall of funk washed over everyone’s ears, the approval rating for Ideateam instantly achieved Bernie Sanders status. Mostly avoiding big band funk clichés, the youthful ensemble showed a maturity in its depth of sound and hybridized styles. We foresee a headlining slot in their near future.
When the Kyle Hollingsworth Band launched its set with a gritty, hard-driving, funk instrumental called “Racer X,” it sent a loud message to the sold out crowd. These guys weren’t here to play it safe. They seized the opportunity to reflect the renegade spirit of the historic venue and never looked back. Funk, funk and more funk was the theme of the night. Sure there were other elements woven throughout the mix – rock, jazz, world beat – but this was a band out to funkify Nevada City with a vengeance. Bassist Paul McDaniel thumped with ferocity and finesse. Drummer Brian McRae fluttered in the pocket, pushing the groove on a lofty trajectory. The pair dropped it like it was hot, keeping the dance floor in a constant state of euphoria throughout the night.
We all knew Kyle was going to unleash a keyboard assault, but most couldn’t have foreseen the face-melting display inflicted by guitarist Dan Schwindt. Tall, skinny and unassuming but 100% rock star – the dude was in the zone from the very beginning. As is necessary with any guitar hero, he commands his own style which is part carnival sleight-of-hand, part psychedelic jazz warrior, part melodic conversationalist extraordinaire. His spontaneity and endless creativity gave each song an x-factor. It was undeniable how the accompaniment of a true electric guitar virtuoso elevated Kyle’s playing exponentially.
The setlist was unbridled fun from start to finish with surprises around every corner. We got playful covers like “Get Down On It.” A slew of teases carried their share of weight including “Crosseyed and Painless,” “Iron Man” and “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On.” Of course there was a healthy foray into the realm of String Cheese with several of Kyle’s compositions showcased in a way which arguably felt even more at home in this atmosphere – “Let’s Go Outside,” “Can’t Wait Another Day,” and “Rosie.” When these songs were unfolding, (especially “Can’t Wait Another Day”) every note cascaded in place like raindrops falling on a field of sunflowers. The moments of improvisation, of which there were many, resonated a natural, effortless swagger. These guys really know how to listen to each other. Their preparation was commendable as the tightness of the compositions and subtle changes demanded admiration.
A commitment to fluidity was integral to the set. Many songs segued into the next, making KHB seem like a band that plays together frequently. It was the perfect mix of stream of consciousness jamming and pre-determined vision. One of the highlights was a fresh take on the haunting SCI classic – “Galactic.” When the band suddenly veered into an instrumental spin through part of “Terrapin Station,” it nearly blew the roof off the place. People exchanged wide-eyed looks of amazement as a sea of arms thrust towards the sky. Serving as a climactic bridge between two SCI songs – “Boo Boo’s Pik-a-nik” and “Rosie” – it added a triumphant exclamation on what was already a glorious performance.
Two-and-a-half hours of non-stop action culminated with a scintillating rollercoaster ride through “Bam!” Kyle donned a “Bam!” hat given to him by an audience member while giving the definitive funk instrumental a healthy workout. His signature animated body language and facial expressions added to the joy of this moment and many others. Looking around the Crazy Horse, there was a palpable essence of the symbiotic relationship existing between band, audience and venue. The room felt like a sonic fantasy land hovering somewhere beyond reality. The dancing throngs emanated shear gratitude and wonder. The band was grounded in a humble professionalism while revealing a hint of, “Wow! We’re really onto something here.” Getting back to those initial questions…yes, Kyle and his band were definitely up to the task of blowing our minds. And no; no complacency to be found here.