Concert Review: Kishi Bashi at the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA
In the same way that I’m a sucker for a man with a beard, every music lover has a trigger that makes them far more likely to fall for a song. For some people it’s handclaps, for some it’s beachy oohs and aahs, for some it’s a heavy-dropped bass, take your pick. For me, though – it’s looping. If a musician knows how to live-loop a song with skill, it’s the umami of the concert-going experience. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, a performer will break songs into segments, and will utilize fancy shmancy gear (this is a technical term) to record these parceled phrases one piece at a time. Ideally without breaking flow of the song, the performer will play back the piece they’ve just recorded and harmonize with it, add in bass/drums/other instruments, and continually forge together each sector of the song until it hits its saturation point. It adds an entirely separate sense of construction and dynamism to the songs at hand, and transforms otherwise pleasant songs into an extraordinary art form.
At this, Kishi Bashi is a true looping artist. He doesn’t just cobble together song-wedges, but he begins with a simple layer of classical violin (or Andrew-Bird-style plucked violin), sings a couple bars to give us a taste of what’s to come, then swiftly speeds his previously-recorded clips so he can engineer playful brightness into his background. Once he’s built some initial layers, he’ll slow down to give us a few solid minutes of beat-boxed beat-drops to get audience heads in synchronized nod. Once the beat is clear, he unleashes the mix in full. But he doesn’t stop there. He belts vocal chants, he swells with harmonies and rather high falsettos. He layers in more symphonic and pointillistic violin. His banjo player kicks in, not only strumming his southwestern paisley banjo, but using the head as a drum head, thumping the base with a mallet to sound like a drum tom, and clacking the armrest block like a drum rim. His former-Enya-backup singer/drum player unleashes a fake ulna to whack away at a floor tom and tambourine, and both the banjoist and minimalist drummer harmonize with Kishi Bashi’s coos. The result? A pure-pop masterpiece.
Kishi Bashi even looks like an artist, with dark hair at the base of a bleached blonde fauxhawk, a cowboy belt buckle with what I’d bet a few dinero was a jackalope, a sleek dark dress shirt, and a flashy checkered bowtie. The banjo player, by comparison, looked like a haggard Steve Carrell in the Noah’s Ark movie. And the former-Enya-backup singer lady? Well, what you’d expect. Kind of hippy, kind of shy, kind of new age-y. Though they may have looked a little mismatched, there was no question of their onstage synchronicity with Kishi Bashi’s inventive catalog.
This show was a particularly special show, not only for the audience, but for Kishi Bashi, too. The show was originally scheduled the weekend of New England’s crazy blizzard of 2013, where driving was illegal and people were cross-country skiing in the roads. They had to cancel and reschedule the 500+ attendee sold-out show, so rather than be one of many nights in a stream of tour stops, we wound up being their reunion show. We’d waited patiently for over a month for the show’s date to finally arrive, and this was an opportunity for the band to be extra playful and extra silly in Kishi Bashi’s (and the banjo player’s) college town. His crowd banter was frequent and friendly – not at all phased by the massive crowd, he talked to us like he was just chatting with his buddies at a night at the bar. It felt personal. In addition to hearing his entire 151a debut album and EP hits, we got to hear an Enya cover, an instrumental fusion piece, and per audience request, he regaled us with the rather scandalous rasta-style “Just the Tip.” He’d get the whole room clapping and snapping through entire songs, and by the end when in the encore he dropped a beat and teased us asking “what, is this beat not danceable for you guys?” the floor took their cue and let loose. This show was one of the most lively and communal I’ve been to, and the synergy of the room and overall performance was as thick as the snow that kept the band from playing their originally scheduled show. Looped music is my addiction, and if it’s not already yours, fair warning: Kishi Bashi may well become your gateway drug. Go on – take the red pill.
- Intro/Pathos, Pathos
- Atticus, in the Desert
- Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived
- Wonder Woman, Wonder Me
- Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons
- Beat the Bright Out of Me
- Conversations at the End of the World
- I Am the Antichrist to You
- Philosophize in it! Chemicalize with it!
- Sail Away (Enya Cover)
- *Fusion* Instrumental
- Bright Whites
- It All Began with a Burst
- Turn Up the Radio (Jupiter One Cover)
- Just the Tip