Photos & Words: Alex Wood | Video: the1stMikeC
With an eclectic but consistently quality catalog of music and a talented, versatile band, violinist Kishi Bashi is precisely the kind of musician that keeps fans coming back with each subsequent tour.
Touring in support of last year’s excellent Sonderlust, Kishi Bashi’s concert at Thalia Hall also coincided with the five-year anniversary of his debut full-length record, 151a, a fact that the songwriter was quick to point out.
The set began with a low-key set of songs from his debut, the four-piece band circled around a single microphone, transforming the elaborate studio compositions to simple folk songs while utilizing violin, acoustic guitars, banjo, an upright bass and a small percussion kit throughout.
The arrangements brought the melodic vocal harmonies to the forefront, while still featuring solos and instrumental sections throughout.
The band then returned to their normal positions on stage, easing into more upbeat songs with the beautiful, jazz-inflicted “Wonder Woman, Wonder Me” and the new “Statues In A Gallery.”
“It’s a deep cut, track number six,” Kishi Bashi joked regarding the latter.
Introducing the full drumset for its climax, the song shifted from lovely ballad to a modern dance track, still barely scraping the surface of the songwriter’s capabilities and foreshadowing the larger sound that was to come.
“Philosophize In It!” followed with force, the introduction inducing immediate applause from the audience. Stacks of violin loops combined with layers of vocals and an upbeat rhythm section, creating an impossibly massive sound for a mere four members on stage.
The song quickly became a sing-along, the crowd screaming its wordless melody back to the band in a joyous refrain.
This is where Kishi Bashi is at his most powerful, mixing keen melodic sense with unique instrumentation and undeniable musicianship to create a sound truly his own, one that instantly captivates those in attendance.
And the songs from Sonderlust were no exception.
“Sonder is the realization that every… stranger around you has a life as vivid and complex as your own,” he explained before the dramatic “Can’t Let Go, Juno.”
Kishi Bashi was vocal throughout the night, often joking with the audience or bandmates and constantly smiling. But the artist grew serious before a solo performance of “I Am The Antichrist To You.”
He pointed out that this year was the 75th anniversary of Japanese internment in America, which “has complete relevance today,” going so far as to say that he “felt a little unsafe as a minority this year.”
Kishi Bashi landed on a positive note, though, discussing the importance of being an accepting country, the way that his parents saw America when moving from Japan in the 70s. He also spoke of being commissioned for a symphonic piece to increase awareness for the anniversary.
The following song was absolutely stunning, with Kishi Bashi layering beautiful violin melodies atop one another in tearful, emotional harmonies, building upward in pitch and intensity until its completion, when he kneeled down and faded the loops out manually.
The audience remained absolutely silent throughout, with roaring applause following the performance.
The band returned for a funky, modern set of songs, including the synthesizer-driven “Say Yeah,” which included a flute solo, and “Honeybody,” which featured a melodica and Kishi Bashi on bass.
An anxious air spread throughout the audience as the opening notes of “Carry On Phenomenon” began, with the majority of those in attendance aware of the epic proportions the track would soon hit.
The song instantly grows large with driving force, but only continues to crescendo throughout, a fuzz bass giving a slight metal influence to the danceable rhythm section’s role.
Always a fan of surprise covers, Kishi Bashi then launched into Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” seated at a piano as his gorgeous falsetto vocals nailed every note of the ambitious song. Halfway through, he stood up and introduced “Mr. Steak” to the stage, a gigantic steak costume walking out to greet the band. The steak danced and sang throughout as the song reached massive heights, the excited audience singing and dancing as Kishi Bashi moved across stage.
“The Ballad Of Mr. Steak” naturally followed, the indie-pop track keeping energy high, its dance-floor-ready vibe sounding like an entirely different band than first took stage.
Kishi Bashi then brought out the drummer of opening band Tall Tall Trees for the unbeatable “It All Began With A Burst,” the song defining the term “epic” in a live setting.
Infectious vocals were met with loud handclaps from the audience as layers of loops built a massive musical backing, confetti cannons exploding from stage at the song’s climax, the band visibly having as much fun as the audience.
A true sight to be seen, I have to imagine that nobody could experience such a performance and not walk away a Kishi Bashi fan.
The band moved to the center of the crowd for the encore, performing two more songs from 151a without microphones. Though often difficult to hear, the audience remained respectably quiet, singing along with muted voices when unable to contain themselves.
Having come full circle from the acoustic 151a songs that opened the show, the encore again focused primarily on Kishi Bashi’s gorgeous and melodic vocals.
Multi-instrumentalist and banjo player for Kishi Bashi Mike Savino opened the show as Tall Tall Trees, utilizing layers of loops for a powerful and appropriate opening set.
Read the setlist and watch videos from the show below.
1. Bright Whites (acoustic)
2. Beat The Bright Out Of Me (acoustic)
3. Q&A (acoustic)
4. Wonder Woman, Wonder Me
5. Statues In A Gallery
6. Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!
7. Can’t Let Go, Juno
8. I Am The Antichrist To You (solo)
10. Say Yeah
12. Carry On Phenomenon
13. Come Sail Away (Styx cover)
14. The Ballad Of Mr. Steak
15. It All Began With A Burst
16. Atticus, In The Desert (acoustic, in crowd)
17. Manchester (acoustic, in crowd)
"Come Sail Away" and "Ballad Of Mr. Steak:"
In Audience Encore: