Seeing Kishi Bashi live is a bit like getting to peek behind the magician’s curtain. You’ll see signs of magic being created, of the indelible skill going into each trick, and yet, the mystery still remains. You still find yourself wondering, awed, “How did he do that?”
There are other parallels to be drawn between a magic act and Kishi Bashi’s recent San Francisco show at the Great American Music Hall — smoke and mirrors, colorful flashing lights, a silver spangled bow tie. Sleight of hand is certainly at play, as K alternated his style of violin playing from lush, classical virtuoso, to a seemingly impossible finger picking frenzy, to a down-home sawing fiddle, with a fluidity that, when you think about it too much, should be impossible.
Ultimately, the joy of this show was watching Kishi Bashi and his bandmates (including the show’s opener, the excellent Tall Tall Trees) build each song before our wide-open eyes. K’s techniques of live recorded loops is certainly nothing new, but the deftness with which he blends the stylings of his violin with vocals and beats (courtesy of K’s beat boxing, and Tall Tall Trees light-up ‘space banjo’ which he at times beat like a drum) makes for an exciting and novel live experience. Watching a wall of sound getting put together in front of you never really gets old, especially not with musicians as talented as these.
Kishi Bashi plowed through much of his 2012 album, 151a, making time for plenty of good-natured banter with the audience, and a couple of covers, too.
“I was the opening act here last year, and now I’m the fucking headliner!” he said grinning, gleefully thanking everyone for attending the sold-out show.
Renditions of “Beat The Bright Out Of Me,” “It All Began With A Burst,” and “Manchester” were definite highlights, as K and Tall Tall Trees wove in and out of sounds evoking classic Americana, classical music, and synthy-weird-pop. Incongruous? You’d think, but rather than turning into a big sonic mess, the sounds played more like nods to various musical canons in the process of creating something new.
Other bonuses included “Philosphize In It! Chemicalize With It!” a new track which was originally created for a Japanese commercial (in response to an audience member’s hearty, “Booo!” K laughed and said, “Boo? Making a living doing music! C’mon.” ) — the full version is charting in Japan, and will be released in the States soon. And there were covers, one a solo rendition from K of U2′s “With or Without You,” and a full band effort of Enya’s “Sail Away.”
Ultimately, what makes Kishi Bashi so memorable is his ridiculous musical skills. This is suggested on his album but undeniable live — he plays violin with the classical skill of a master, sings in stunning, clear tones (and has a ridiculous range), and beat boxes with the best of him.
Mad skills, a likeable stage presence, and an Enya cover? If that’s not a damn good show, I don’t know what is.
Plus, I don’t think there’s ever been so rad a violin player since this guy.