Concert review: Kishi Bashi (with Plume Giant and Ross Christopher) works his looping magic at the Firebird, Saturday, February 16
Photo credit: Mark Runyon / ConcertTour.org
Kishi Bashi‘s personality seems to parallel his music, with joyful, lighthearted humbleness despite its complexity. His songs demonstrate an expert level of musical mastery, but he’s still able to laugh and make jokes between songs, and even smile as he played. You could tell he enjoyed performing, and that made everyone enjoy watching him.
Kishi Bashi, who used to tour as a backing musician for of Montreal and Regina Spektor, now makes solo music with live looping, mostly of violin, beat boxing and synths. He creates his songs right in front of you, but the loops come with such fluidity that if you close your eyes, it almost sounds like a full band.
When he played the Firebird on Saturday night, Kishi Bashi, born Kaoru, or K, Ishibashi, did have backing musicians for some songs. Elizabeth Ziman from Elizabeth and the Catapult added some intense, hip-hop style beats on and percussion and Mike Savino from Tall Tall Trees played banjo. I can’t decide if I preferred solo Kishi Bashi, or the songs with a backing band more. Both were stunning.
Ross Christopher, a singer and violinist from St. Louis, opened the show with a quick, 30-minute set. Christopher sounds similar to Kishi Bashi, with layers of loops, but he has a deeper, raspier voice. I felt that he spent a bit too long setting his loops, extending songs that lasted three minutes on an album to seven minutes live, which mainly posed the problem of his beautiful set cutting off after just five songs.
Brooklyn’s Plume Giant performed next, putting on a sweet, soft show that sounded like a campfire sing-along. Their songs varied from traditional Americana to poppier indie-folk, all with playful vocal melodies and delicate layering. They’d missed their sound check and had to tune their instruments as the show went, but provided some cute dialogue to keep the show moving. “We’re actually playing a lot of new songs tonight, in case you’re familiar with our collection and were hoping for the hits,” joked Eliza Bagg, who sings and plays violin and harmonium.
At around 10:30 p.m., Kishi Bashi took the stage. He wore skinny grey pants and a black-collared shirt with two bowties, one around his neck and the other hanging from his pant pocket. He had suspenders, too, but they fell off a few songs in. “In a real world, my pants would have fallen down, but [my suspenders are] what I call ‘decoration,’” he said as his perfectly planned get-up slowly fell apart.
In the second song of the set, “Atticus, in the Desert,” Kishi Bashi lit up. His feet constantly moved from button to button on the loop recorders in front of him and he skipped and jumped around the stage as he vigorously played his violin. It fit perfectly at the beginning of the set and set the tone for the rest of the night as it grew and swelled until a pinnacle at the 3-minute mark the beat boxing, drumming and banjo burst in.
I especially loved a new song called “Philosophize It! Chemicalize It!” that began as a 30-second jingle for a Japanese cell-phone commercial and later became a full-length track. It showcased his voice more than some of the others, with lots of bellows and vocal variation. In that song, as well as a few others, his voice actually sounded a lot like James Mercer from the Shins.
“Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons” lasted just two minutes, but oozed power and excitement. For a good portion of the song, Kishi Bashi stopped playing and singing and looped, affected vocals and the crowd’s claps became the music.
Kishi Bashi’s interactions with the crowd came off as genuine and sweet, and included lots of gratitude towards the city of St. Louis, including a special thank you to KDHX for playing his music. He talked about the things you want to hear a musician talk about — the stories behind songs, favorite places to visit in the city, how the tour’s gone so far — but for the most part he let his music speak for itself.
Trees made of wooden planks and a fog machine on full blast brought life to the stage, but for “Bright Whites,” one of the final songs, a bubble machine was added as well. As the bubbles floated down and popped on the slick stage, Kishi Bashi’s skipping and jumping turned into sliding and slipping. He almost fell a good number of times, but kept on smiling. He looked like someone slipping on a banana peel in a cartoon; his bowties and spiky, bleached blonde Mohawk only added to that cartoon imagery.
Maybe Kishi Bashi really is a brilliantly created cartoon, and maybe that’s why so much talent can fit in such a small body. It’s almost like he’s just a magical creature created to personify his music, and that’s why both he and his set seem so unrealistically perfect.