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Monday, 16 January 2012 11:09

Concert review: Kishi Bashi and the Hibernauts rewrite rock formulas at Off Broadway, Saturday, January 14

Concert review: Kishi Bashi and the Hibernauts rewrite rock formulas at Off Broadway, Saturday, January 14 flickr.com/photos/phillymostlyvegan/5806476270 / Brandee Nichols
Written by Jason Sindel
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As a rule, I'm a comparative thinker. As a writer, I construct parallels and employ juxtaposition all the time. As a critic, I see comparison as a means towards a more accurate definition.

The Kishi Bashi/Hibernauts show at Off Broadway this Saturday afforded me an opportunity to indulge in a study of contrasts.

First, let's dispense with the obvious. The Hibernauts are four very white guys from the local area and Kaoru Ishibashi (AKA Kishi Bashi) is an American violinist of Japanese descent from Seattle. In the words of Kishi Bashi's sexually charged anthem -- which some on Saturday may have remembered from the Luminary's of Montreal show from last June -- that's "just the tip." There's other glaring contrasts that set these musicians into singular categories and points towards their respective fates.

The Hibernauts' brand of South Side gritty is a classic example of a post-punk paradigm. What do you do when you grow up in the Midwest and make music? If you are a band by the name of the Hibernauts, you adopt the classic two guitar, bass and drums formula and hope to break out of formulaic results. To their credit, they bring energy and verve to the enterprise, and what kept this band together, even when only sporadically doing live shows or recording new music over the years, is what makes them fun to watch -- a palpable synchronicity and the ability to play off one another.

That's fine if you play the odd Off Broadway gig or jam out for the happy hour crowd at Maggie O's, but in this era of music-by-demand and cloud-driven social phenomena, a band has to work something else: its network. The Hibernauts have fans, and the turnout this Saturday was respectable and lively, but I'm starting to see why they are "retiring": They just didn't create the kind of buzz that makes you heard above the fray, and when they played, it sounded familiar and catchy, and sometimes, regrettably, well -- too familiar.

With no single vocalist's voice pulling the band out of the norm, they seem almost destined for comparisons to other more successful bands. Which is too bad, since while it was billed as a review and featured an old setlist that stretched back to the early oughts, the best stuff they played was the newest. Indeed, "Backburner" should have been moved to the front.

If the Hibernauts represent a classic, tried-and-true formula, Kishi Bashi is a mad scientist tinkering with new elements and new recipes. Classically trained on the violin at the Berkeley School of Music, his instruments double as input devices to a series of loop and effects peddles. It's no wonder he studied film scores, cause there's a majesty in his music, and enough depth to inspire the imagination and fill in any gaps that might be left by the lack of a full band.

Not that there are any gaps, since the loops that K puts together at the start of his songs build on one another until there's an orchestra supporting him. His bass is driven by his voice which can hit the higher registers with almost pitch perfection. His beat-boxing and other vocalisms seem almost like he requires them to satisfy a compulsive need to build a song, and the results are anything if formulaic.

Since I last saw him in June, his old songs from the last EP have been remixed and jiggered. His live show was unpredictable, as one moment from the song "Bright Whites" showed, in which his loop didn't take after a pretty inspired beat box riff, so he apologized for user-error, laughed, blamed the drink, took a swig and started another inspired riff. The song changed then and that live improv was lost to us but resonated anyway, since we were watching him not just play music but make it as well.

The final comparison of these two acts is really one of future sets. Ishibashi is going to make an album which will feature fantastic music. He is most likely going to continue playing with Of Montreal, perhaps touring with Regina Spektor and probably Sondre Lerche. He may or may not stay living in Norfolk Virginia where he's moved to from Brooklyn and he may or may not come back to St. Louis any time soon. But one thing is for sure, if he does, and you see his show, you will not forget the name Kishi Bashi.

As for the Hibernauts, though the show was billed as their retirement party, they said last night they "don't really know if this is the end" and are "not going to call it the end." As Bill clarified, "We're just not going to do it that often anymore." That remains to be seen, but at least we have something new to look forward to, a full-length album from Kishi Bashi, available April 10.

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