Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Indie pop violinist Kishi Bashi's live set has you bopping off the walls

Kishi Bashi is one of those silly, zany artists who you can't help but break out in a big goofy smile for, and I got to catch him Friday night at Mercy Lounge. Otherwise known as Kaoru Ishibashi, he's been a touring member with Of Montreal and also in Regina Spektor's band, but it seems he's doing pretty well on his own.

Clad in his pink tuxedo and bowtie, he wowed the crowd by incorporating his vividly realized violin skill into whimsical, dream coated indie pop songs. His new album, Lighght, more heavily favors synthesizers and Phoenix style dance beats.

He was able to touch the ceiling with his soaring upper register, which gave him room to maneuver on cuts like "Bright Whites," which sounds like a gleeful take on The Beatles' White Album era, and played "Neon Genesis for Him and Her," about how the world was created through two people's love for one another.

Kishi Bashi and banjo player Mike Savino, play well off one another.

But the night's most gorgeous moment came from the final song in the main set. The quiet, beautiful magnificence of "Manchester," drifted through the performance chamber as he croons, "My favorite part is when I die/ in your arms like a movie/ tragic, but now the story has its proper end." It gently builds to a powerful final cascade of violin work.

His encore was the standout event of the evening, however. He had us all bouncing around and dancing during "The Ballad of Mr. Steak," a silly synthesizer driven cut about a steak who just wants to spend his life dancing before he is eaten. Then he did a cover of "Live and Let Die," before closing with "It All Began With a Burst," in which he let us sing the zany high pitched parts.

He relied heavily on tape loops, looping the violin parts. He had a banjo player, Mike Savino, but it didn't sound like typical country banjo playing. When I could hear it, it sounded more like Calypso inspired playing. He had flashing red and green Christmas lights inside his banjo that lit up while he played. Bashi would stop to do some random improv here and there between songs. At one point, he and Savino were playing off one another and were totally feeding off each other's energy.

When it comes to songs that rely more heavily on studio effects, however, its clear that he's still working on figuring out how to translate it to live stage. The lack of acoustic guitar in the band clearly effected the timbre of certain cuts, and not for the better. "Q&A" felt much emptier without it, while "Philosophize In It! Chemacilze In It!" required a near re-write for the second half of the song.

This was one of my favorite songs from him, with one of my favorite aspects of it being the acoustic guitar breakdown near the end. But instead of that he broke into a very brief jam session, and then delivered the final lines with a whimper.

That stuck out as the biggest weakness of his set was that certain songs didn't translate as well without guitar. The banjo player was talented and was a great showman, but the instrument itself didn't seem to add much to the performance. It tended to get swallowed up by the rest of the mix.

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