A live Kishi Bashi show is a frenetic experience — the energy is high, the sounds otherworldly, and the experience thoroughly all-encompassing. It's so easy to be distracted by the experience of watching an obviously talented musician create, right in front of your eyes and ears, that you overlook the fundamentals that make the music so good.
Which is why a show featuring Kishi Bashi accompanied by a string quartet brings a whole new level of appreciation to his music. You gain a new understanding for his more "traditional" musical skills – as a composer, arranger, violin maestro, and vocalist. His music is lent texture and layers that may be inherent in his self-looping frenzy, but aren't necessarily seen. The quartet lifts the curtain on his magician's set-up. But, rather than ruining the trick, it further shows how much brilliance went into its making.
This San Francisco performance took place at The Palace of Fine Arts, a venue that evokes a high school auditorium and a Broadway theater in the best of ways — the stage is flanked by plush red curtains, and the crowd is seated in old school cinema style seats. It's a perfect place to sit and let the sound wash over you.
Still, high energy remains the core of a Kishi Bashi show. He's something of a punk rock conductor, throwing his body into the rhythms of his songs, and frequently called for the crowd to get up for "exercise sets," a.k.a. raucous dance party songs. He thrives in combining seemingly disparate elements — classical string instruments somehow work with the banjo stylings of friend and fellow performer Tall Tall Trees, who, naturally, often uses his instrument to contribute percussion to the set.
This was most striking in a heart-stopping performance of "Atticus In The Desert," all Arabic rhythms and apocalyptic string work. It was a sit-up-and-listen kind of moment, after being lulled into easy submission by a pitch-perfect cover of the Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place."
Kishi Bashi, when accompanied by similarly talented musicians, is a joy to watch. But it remains thrilling to watch him take the stage alone, creating his own personal Wall of Sound with his violin, his beat boxing rhythms, and his voice. His ability to captivate in both settings — solo, and with the backing of a genre-bending band — infers the almost limitless possibilities of his music.