Kishi Bashi


I heard recently about how on the day Craig Finn had the surreal experience of his band opening for the Stones at Slane Castle, he never even got to meet Jagger, Richards and the others. But tonight not only have our opening and main acts met before, they are travelling and rooming together throughout the tour. After his support set, one-man-band and banjo player from the future Tall Tall Trees has joined Kishi Bashi (himself usually a solo guy live) to give us a two-piece presentation of our headliner’s music.

I don’t know that I would call Soup Kitchen’s basement “a dive”, but as Neil Young sang, it’s where you meet the winners, and Kishi Bashi seems to feel the same way as Young, and appears to be in his element here. In a parallel universe, the highly-skilled violinist could quite conceivably be bringing his instrument, falsetto vocals and smart attire to grander venues like RNCM or Bridgewater Hall in order to benefit from their excellent acoustics. Early on here tonight, I get the impression that even if the Athens, GA-based musician could pack out fancy auditoriums like those, he’d prefer to play Soup Kitchen instead anyway. Thriving on the intimacy of seeing the whites of our eyes in the front row just a few feet away, after many a little flourish of violin or heavenly-voiced phrase, he looks to us for instant feedback – to see whether we are smiling back at him or mouthing along to the words.

Another aspect of Kishi Bashi’s performance that sets him apart from a typical classically-trained violinist/vocalist playing in a hall is his use of a sampler to loop his voice and instruments and to layer them to build intricate backing tracks, over which he sings and plays violin or keys. A one-time member of the band of Montreal, he focuses on violin loops early on in the set before switching to keys for songs from his most recent album, Sonderlust. We learn during one introductory interlude that the title of the album was inspired by the beautiful entry for the word ‘Sonder’ in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. It’s interesting to hear as well about a forthcoming and musical Kishi Bashi project planned for later in the year on the theme of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The show is proving different from my expectations in some ways. For one, Kishi Bashi’s vocals are more impressive and rich than I was anticipating, especially in the way he slips so easily into falsetto from a deeper tone. Also surprising to me is the relative absence of the danceable beats on record, which I thought might be recreated of-sorts live by looped beatboxing. ‘The Ballad of Mr. Steak’ is an exception with a lively rhythm bashed out by Tall Tall Trees on his colourfully-lit banjo. Most entertaining of all about this song tonight is that, for a laugh (following some between-song chat earlier in the show), Kishi Bashi sings it in his best English accent. To me he sounds a bit like Robert Smith!

To drive home the overall stripped-down feeling, though, the three songs of the encore and melodic highlights of the night, ‘Bright Whites’, ‘Q&A’ and ‘Manchester’ (part-written on a visit here about seven years ago), are performed with no amplification near the beam out in the middle of the crowd. Musicians like Kishi Bashi, who give so much of themselves during a show and involve the audience in the experience to such an extent, truly are to be cherished.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.