Kishi Bashi at the Bluebird
Why You Cannot Beat the Bright Out of Kishi Bashi:
The Bluebird was ablaze with soaring violin-anchored melodies, strokes of intricately thread falsetto, and a healthy dose of layered banjo (for good measure) on Tuesday night. It’s always an uplifting concert experience when you can physically feel beams of joy emanating from the performers – the manifestation of the love of music unhinged is a tidal wave released into the crowd, and everyone loves to be washed around by it. Kishi Bashi likes to watch you swim, too.
This bright evening was gently prodded into momentum by Plume Giant: an adorable, irresistibly charming trio of recent Yale graduates Oliver Hill, Nolan Green and Eliza Bagg. They played a concise set of their folksy, sun-soaked catalogue to an amused and mildly invested audience; Plume’s stage presence was expectedly modest and grateful on principle, yet they seemed genuinely comfortable and at home with instruments in their hands, with their voices finding harmony in each others’ nearly effortlessly. When Green’s high E-string broke directly after their first song, Hill and Bagg made bubbly small talk with the audience and decided to play a track without their bespectacled adversary. They assured us, “This is the first time we’ve done this!”
In the biography section of their website, Plume Giant is succinctly defined in these sensory terms: “…if they were perfumes, they would be lavender, ginger, and honey, and if they were legumes, they would be parsnips, parsnips and parsnips.” With the remarkably high volume of bands who choose the “indie roots-folk” gimmick – you know the one: manifold stringed instruments, waistcoats, soft-spoken sensitive frontmen, and at least one instance of facial hair – it takes a considerable amount of genuine musicianship along with an authentic enthusiasm and conviction behind the music to stand out in the analog-obsessed crowd. A few of Plume’s tracks were pleasant at best (forgettable at worst), but at the heart of it their chemistry was concrete and sturdy. The live rendition of “Old Joe the Crow” aptly displayed this unity through light-hearted whimsy in the lyrics and call-and-response interactions between the three; however, they were strongest in the depths of three-part harmonies with steady guitar and viola accompaniments chugging along behind, their interwoven voices sepia like those scraps of paper with summer poetry scrawled to an old lover when your heart was thoughtlessly drifting away (“B-Side Baby”). After a satisfying set of songs from their self-titled EP and debut album Callithump, the trio disappeared from the stage as humbly as they came.
I’m a fan of clever pseudonyms. I’m also a long-time fan of Kevin Barnes, the weirdo-mastermind behind psychedelic pop act Of Montreal. Interesting haircuts are usually a plus, too. Luckily for me, Kishi Bashi had all three of these things going for him–his name is Kaoru Ishibashi, he was a touring member with Barnes, and yes, his hair was pretty interesting.
Despite his associations with popular previous acts and the success of his self-produced debut under his own name (2012’s ambiguously titled 151a), I was unsure of what to expect at the Bluebird. Before K’s unique brand of orchestral indie pop detonated on stage, I took a look around. Goddamn, was I surprised. The venue swiftly filled up and by the time the music started, it was apparent most of these people were avid fans. The best part was that K seemed to be just as thrilled to be playing.
151a plays like a blinding fluorescent pop dream, with Bashi’s omnipresent violin loops in center focus and giant, exuberant choruses and precisely placed electronic flourishes surrounding the listener in a dazzling haze. In certain areas, the arrangements call to mind some of Sigur Rós’ faster-paced fare: grandiose and multifaceted, precise but worldly. K’s attention to detail on the record is fascinating, as every song is structurally layered from the ground up; the foundation erratically switches from frenzied vocals to rambling violin riffs to pulsating percussion. All of these painstaking details were impressively translated into a compelling live set.
On album opener “Intro / Pathos, Pathos,” the cornerstone bubbly bass lines were replaced by parallel banjo stylings by touring member Tall Tall Trees, K tirelessly looping his violin (reminiscent of Andrew Bird), belting out the vocals and maintaining a gigantic smile on his face all the while. The dude was a real firecracker. Parts of the set were played solo, making it clear how downright contented Mr. Ishibashi was to be on stage. Several moments occurred during his set that made the whole experience seem serendipitous: crowd participation in the form of handclapping caused him to stop playing due to laughter on a track he apparently wrote for a Japanese commercial called “Philosophize in it! Chemicalize in it!,” sly remarks were made about how the “fog machines” in Denver smelled suspicious, and an impromptu presentation of a joke-rap titled “Just the Tip” was executed that featured K animatedly jumping around the stage. Possibly my favorite moment was when he insisted on taking a photo of the crowd with his iPhone, momentarily struggling to operate the camera. In the end, this guy was endearing as all hell.
Although the dynamic between the live drumming and banjo meshed appropriately with the composition of Kishi Bashi’s music, the most captivating moments occurred when he stood alone: the crowd intently watching him construct a sonic atmosphere like a skilled architect. The sprawling, slow-building ballad “I am the Antichrist to You” reached an astonishing pinnacle and sloped down gracefully. At the fade of the last note, a profound instant of stunned silence filled up the Bluebird before it was broken by an eruption of cheers. After sincerely expressing his gratitude for the audience, Kaoru concluded the show with the second track on 151a, “Manchester.” When the chorus arrived and echoed off the walls – “I haven’t felt this alive in a long time” – you could feel he really meant it.
Photos and review by Sigmund Steiger.