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Thursday, 29 May 2014 10:00

Concert review and set list: Kishi Bashi (with Née and Busman's Holiday) fills the Ready Room with delight, Tuesday, May 27

Concert review and set list: Kishi Bashi (with Née and Busman's Holiday) fills the Ready Room with delight, Tuesday, May 27
Written by Janet Noe

The title of Kaoru Ishibashi's new LP "Lighght" is taken from a 1965 poem by Aram Saroyan in which the word "lighght" is the single word of text in the center of the page. It was considered controversial in its time for calling its just one, misspelled word a poem at all.

Ishibashi felt profoundly connected to it and related to its pushing against convention. Think about the lengthening out of that particular word, the stretching of its consonants to the point it feels as though it may burst. The bursting forth of light and joy is, in a nutshell, a Kishi Bashi performance.

The gorgeous set design bedecking the stage at the Ready Room gave hints as to what a merry experience the audience was about to have. Wide swaths of gauzy white fabric swagged across the back. Large panels draped forward covering the ceiling above the stage and over either side of the stage, caught in wooden trees used during the last tour (way to repurpose and recycle, Kishi Bashi!) and all was illuminated by pink and purple lighting giving the effect of a sunset or a giant blooming flower. A disco ball cast sparkling bits of light on one side of the stage and on the other hung a giant white balloon, filled with the promise of confetti.

To warm up the crowd, local favorite Née claimed the stage. Née began as a one-woman band, that woman being Kristin Dennis. Now it's a fluid and phenomenal four piece who radiate nuclear energy via synthesizers and driving drum beats. It is notoriously difficult to get a St. Louis crowd to move their bodies on the dance floor but Née makes it your body's imperative. It would have been nice to see the audience shake it a bit more but, you know how it goes, it takes a while to get an evening rolling. Dennis may not have had them all dancing, but she is certainly entrancing, and that sweet avian voice? She could slay dragons and shit, simply by the power of her vocal chords.

Next in the evening's lineup was a band completely new to me, Busman's Holiday. Their name is an old expression that I was also unfamiliar with, coming from a bus driver spending his holiday on a bus. A "busman's holiday" means a holiday spent where you do the same sort of thing you would do for your job. It's kind of a brilliant band name when you think about it, since most musicians I know get so much pleasure out of their work and performing and would probably spend most vacations still making music. The Bloomington, Indiana duo are brothers Lewis and Addison Rogers. Lewis is on guitar, Addison on drums and both providing lovely, lighthearted harmonies indicative of days gone by. Their particular brand of irresistible, old-school charm blends a folksy dance sweetness with vaudevillian banter and love-struck lyrics.

When the time came for the main event, the always dapper Ishibashi took the stage dressed in a white jacket, requisite flower arrangement in the lapel, bow tie and envy-inducing white oval belt buckle decorated with a proud stag. The whole band looked sharp, nary a T-shirt in sight, befitting the beautiful set.

A Kishi Bashi performance is a feast for the eyes and ears. This banquet began with "Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!" then "Carry On Phenomenon" both from the new album. From the leading strains of the first tune, Ishibashi encourages accompanying percussion in the form of clapping beats from the audience and even beat poet-era style snapping during a later song. It all fosters a truly communal atmosphere. During "Atticus in the Desert" from the first release "151a," banjo player extraordinaire, Mike Savino aka Tall Tall Trees began drumming against his instrument. The banjo's center is lit with colored lights that glow green and blue and in this moment, red like the embers of a campfire. The effect is one of primal tradition meeting the new millenium. After the screams of an appreciative crowd subsided, Ishibashi turned to Savino and said, "I think they like you."

Before launching into "Q&A" Ishibashi shared, "My second album, just came out a week and a half ago. I just learned a few days ago that it's charting on Billboard Top 200. It's number 52. Yeah, so thanks! Thanks for your support."

It's refreshing that these sweet but never saccharine songs are climbing the charts. In a musical world filled with high fructose corn syrup, it's a pure and natural, wholesome and delicious standout. The songs on the album soar one moment, embrace the next, turn a cartwheel or two and at times, such as in "Ha Ha Ha Pt. 1" and "Ha Ha Ha Pt. 2" are almost delirious and slightly spooky.

Then there are the looping effects achieved with a series of pedals, the violin and Ishibashi's lovely vocal range. He informs the crowd that he'd like to do an "ancient Kishi Bashi song" and launches into "Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived" with Savino's handsome voice adding to the mix. Toward the end, Savino was humming into the back of the banjo and the loops made with violin and vocal patterns conjured crickets chirping, Sputnik beeping, raindrops falling and a universe of other aural pleasures. You can get lost in a song like that; the very best kind of lost.

After a pause between songs, Ishibashi shared, "This next song is called 'Bittersweet Genesis For Him & For Her' and it's off my new album. The story of this song is it's based on a creation myth that I've been contemplating and the ideas, it's loosely based on Gaia. The concept of Gaia is that all the organisms on this earth are formed, they form to create a larger being or consciousness which is the the earth, Gaia and it's, you know, pretty interesting idea. So I was thinking, what if the creation of the earth and everything in between, the humanity, crimes of humanity, or corruption of people and the beauty and destruction and the ultimate collapse of the world were the story of two lovers."

During moments of this gorgeous song, the stage was bathed in pure white rays creating a moment of pure convergence of "lighght" and music. I don't know how anyone could experience that and not feel transformed at least in some small way; this gem of a song placed in a setting of pure radiance. I found it breathtaking.

As much as Kishi Bashi crafts poetic lyrics that actually make you think (I know right? Shocking for pop music, eh?) and feel all the feelings, he also creates a complex musical playground. And playgrounds are fun! As a collective audience we bounced, we snapped, we clapped, we shimmied. We even, and I do mean everyone in the room, raised our arms high and swung them through the air, rocking back and forth together like those inflatable air dancers you see outside of car dealerships and amusement parks. The ebullient "Manchester" was the last song of the main set but the encore was merely seconds behind. Drummer Phillip Mayer beat out the marching orders for the band to return to the stage where they slid into "Bright Whites." As that infectious tune ended, Ishibashi, twinkle in his eye, began beatboxing then stopped, "What no? No? Yes? No? No? Yes?" and as the crowd roared their answer he launched into a roller-coaster ride of what mere human vocal chords working in tandem with the lungs are capable of creating. I don't even know how I'm supposed to describe that bit! You are just going to have to YouTube "Kishi Bashi beatboxing" and see where that carnival ride takes you. Even that won't quite do it justice. You are just going to have to put a Kishi Bashi show on your bucket list right fucking now.

Can you tell that this is pretty much my favorite show definitely this year and maybe, just maybe ever? My cheeks were exhausted from smiling. Then, just when I thought this concert could not possibly get any better, the band launched into a most righteous cover of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die," during which the confetti-filled balloon was batted back and forth and eventually ripped apart by Ishibashi, its contents fluttering down over his head. He exited the stage for a moment while Savino tore it all up on a sweet solo. Then returned to close out the night with "It All Began With a Burst." We the audience clapped our palms 'til they were stinging, tied our tongues with the repeated twister "kesa ka ni sasareta" and were rewarded with blasts of red blue, yellow and white paper strips showering down on a perfectly luminous and glorious evening.

Set list:

Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!
Carry on Phenomenon
Atticus, in the Desert
Wonder Woman, Wonder Me
Ha Ha Ha Pt. 1
Ha Ha Ha Pt. 2
Beat the Bright out of Me
Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived
Bittersweet Genesis for Him & Her
I Am the Antichrist to You
Bright Whites
The Ballad of Mr. Steak
Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney cover)
It All Began With a Burst

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