Using delay pedals to loop material and concoct songs piecemeal onstage is not a new concept. Keller Williams has been doing it for almost two decades. Reggie Watts has made a comedy career from his improvisational looping. What seems to make Kishi Bashi special is his instrument of choice: the violin. Plucking on the strings with his fingers or playing it traditionally with a bow, K takes the instrument normally reserved for classical music and propels it into the future by processing the sound through various effects pedals: ramping the speed, shifting the pitch, making noise. On top of that, he layers a series of percussive vocals. And on top of that, sung in an octave-pogoing range, his optimistic and introspective lyrics. If you're having trouble imagining this, or if you're not and it sounds awesome, check out his NPR Tiny Desk Concert below:
While I prefer my Kishi Bashi solo (or if we're being totally honest, fronting Jupiter One), the addition of Savino on banjo and backup vocals was at least interesting. Also playing through a pedal board, his banjo went from serving as a bass drum when hit with a mallet to a white-noise generator when caressed with utensils. A cacophony decayed into crickets and then crescendoed into something similar to THX's Deep Note. The banjo complemented the violin best on "Bright Whites," the song taking on a bluegrass feel and the violin taking on its fiddle label.
The songs performed by Kishi Bashi alone, however, received the most applause. After an exciting "It All Began with a Burst," K played the slower "I Am the Antichrist to You," introducing it as a love song with a status of "It's complicated." Then he asked, "Who wants to be a guinea pig tonight?" before going into a cover of Beirut's "A Sunday Smile," which he prefaced by saying that he wasn't the greatest at it. He flubbed a part halfway through, and exclaimed, "Shit!" before hopping back in over the sounds of mild laughter.
Which brings me to yet another layer of Kishi Bashi's performance: his humor. The contrast of his complex music with his silly stage banter helps to humanize him from musical marvel into a funny friend.
On the temperature of the room: "Is it really hot in here, or is it just really hot in here?"
On a sound issue with Savino that caused a small hold-up: "We're losing sales, man."
On instructing the crowd to sing the Japanese part of a song: "It's so easy; it's just another language."
For the encore, Kishi Bashi unveiled a very different version of Jupiter One song "Turn Up the Radio," barely using his pedals at all, trading out the original synth-y song for a somber dirge. After enlisting the audience to sing on what was supposed to be the last song, "Manchester," K couldn't help but be overtaken by the room's energy and segue into "Chester's Burst Over the Hamptons," the only track he had yet to play from his album.
As I was leaving the venue, I overheard a woman say, "He's like a drug." While that might be an overstatement, I am going to see Kishi Bashi for my third time this year on September 20th. Maybe I just have trouble admitting that I have an addiction.
TALL TALL TREES – 07.26.12 – JOE’S PUB (LATE SHOW)
Highwire / Alaska / Wake the Moon / Nothingless / Waiting on the Day
KISHI BASHI – 07.26.12 – JOE’S PUB (LATE SHOW) (1 hour, 16 minutes)
Intro > Pathos, Pathos / Atticus, In the Desert / Wonder Woman, Wonder Me / Beat the Bright Out of Me > Conversations at the End of the World / Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived / It All Began with a Burst / I Am the Antichrist to You / A Sunday Smile / Bright Whites
Turn Up the Radio / Manchester > Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons