Live Concert Review: Kishi Bashi with Twain at Webster Hall 10/2/16
Certainly, if you’ve been frequenting this site for some time, you’d know that I lead an incredibly full life in which I commute to a full-time day job as an Acquisitions Editor at a Downtown Manhattan-based book publisher, run this site as a full-time side project, participate in panel segment that airs on Norway’s P4 Radio, and I manage to occasionally have a social life full of friends, shenanigans and dating. Granted, with so many things going on in my life on a daily basis, I often wish I had a 40-45 hour day to fit in everything – and yet knowing myself, I’d probably squeeze in much more that I’d need to do or look to finish. Of course, on occasion being as busy as I am, usually means something suffers somewhere or another and lately, I haven’t had as much time to seriously sit down and write lately. But I’ll be spending part of the end of this year and the beginning of 2017 catching up on a few major writing projects I haven’t had the chance to do during this past year for one reason or another.
Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past couple of years, you’ve come across a healthy handful of posts on renowned multi-instrumentalist (best known as a violinist), composer and producer K. Ishibashi — and his critically applauded solo recording project Kishi Bashi. Although, he initially began his career as a member of Regina Spektor’s and Sondre Lerche’s backing bands and followed that up with a stint as a co-producer and full time member of of Montreal, Ishibashi quickly developed a reputation as a solo artist, who crafted swooning, orchestral and baroque-leaning pop – with a mischievously modern take that paired lush orchestration with anthemic and infectious hooks and the frequent use of looping machines, samples and other electronics throughout his first two albums 151a and Lighght. However, Sonderlust Ishibashi’s third full-length effort, which was produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor and co-engineered by Pat Dillet, who has worked with Angelique Kidjo and David Byrne and Matt Chamberlin, who’s best known for stints in Morrissey’s and Fiona Apple’s backing bands as a fellow member of of Montrael, finds the blogosphere darling reinventing his sound and changing his songwriting approach while retaining elements of the sound that first won him attention across the blogosphere. “As I sat down to write songs last summer, I went to all my usual conduits of creation: violin loops, guitar, piano and I came up with the musical equivalent of fumes,” Ishibashi explained in press notes. “I tried to create orchestral pop recordings that I assume were my forte, and in turn, I found myself standing in front of a creative wall of frightening heights.” This period of creative uncertainly, along with significant changes in his personal life, led him experiment with a new musical direction. “I questioned everything about what it means to love and desire…the difference between loving someone and being in love,” Ishibashi says. And as a result, the material on Sonderlust manages to possess elements of 80s synth pop and New Wave and at one point, a song that leans towards 70s bluesy, psych rock – and yet the material still swoons with an earnest Romanticism, complete with soaring, anthemic hooks.
Throughout the last part of the year, Ishibashi along with his backing band of friends and collaborators – including renowned cellist and composer Nick Ogawa, best known as Takѐnobu – were on a lengthy North American tour to support Sonderlust earlier this year, which included an early October date at Webster Hall with Franklin County, VA-based singer/songwriter Twain as their opener.
As several friends and associates had told me in the days leading up to this show, over the past few years Ishibashi and company had developed a reputation for an ecstatic and enthusiastic live show that would have audiences dancing, swooning and shouting along – and man, Ishibashi and company did not disappoint. Not only was there an enormous dancing and drumming anthropomorphic steak that appeared during the crowd pleasing “The Ballad of Mr. Steak,” Ishibashi beatboxing like it was 1982, some crowd sure fing while playing the violin and some effortless switching between organ and violin throughout set – all while being a nattily attired and thoughtful frontman, who looked equally as though he were about to recite the poetry of John Keats as much as he could play a show with an orchestra – or a rock band. Speaking of the beatboxing, when Ishibashi beatboxed through his looping machines, it created a trippy bit of psychedelia to a swooning and gorgeous song early in the set. (If I remember it correctly – and it’s been a while – that song was so early in the set, that I was in the photo pit; but luckily enough I made a mental note of it that I remembered several months later. Go me, huh?)
And out of a set of countless highlights, there were several that stood out for me and will for quite some time. “Who’d You Kill” off the new album nods at earnest 70s AM radio singer/songwriter-based rock, in a fashion reminiscent of Bowie, Elton John and others, complete with a similar attention to craft. “Can’t Let Go Juno” was turned into a slow-burning, Quiet Storm-like number with a soaring and anthemic. “Say Yeah,” one of my favorite singles off Sonderlust manages to possesses a retro-futuristic feel as a sinuous bass line was paired with shimmering synths and stuttering electronics, as Ishibashi’s earnest and plaintive falsetto float over the mix. Two songs of the set included Takènobu’s gorgeous cellos with the third solo being a stunningly gorgeous solo Bach interlude that made me think “how many times will I hear Bach at an indie rock show?” “Philosophize In It,” off 151a is a preternaturally ecstatic song – but live the song sounded as though it were inspired by Graceland-era Paul Simon.
Their encore included an acoustic version of “Honeybody” in which Ishibashi and the backing band harmonizing Crosby, Stills and Nash-style into one microphone in what may arguably one of the most playfully sexy songs the renowned singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has written and released to date. It was followed by the sweetly plaintive torch song, “Q&A,” which was suddenly turned into an old fashioned, porch jam that retained the sweet natured tone about stumbling across someone, who seemed to be your destiny. The set ended with an equally gorgeous, crowd pleaser and live show standard “Manchester.” And throughout Ishibashi had full command of his audience, taking them through ecstatic joy, heartache and swooning love in an incredibly fun 2 hour set – a set that had the crowd dancing and jumping around throughout the night.
Opening the night was the Franklin County, VA-based singer/songwriter Twain. And although rooted in a Harvest-era Neil Young-like heartfelt earnestness, which seemed to pair perfectly with Ishibashi, the Virginia-based songwriter’s material while somewhat dreamy managed to feel plodding and tuneless as though the material could have used additional instrumentation to bolster weak material – or as though it could have used more refinement to tease and suss out discernible melody and a tighter, sharper hooks. And when your most memorable song – in this case, a song titled “Angels in America” is your most memorable song because it actually possesses a hook, you’re probably in trouble. Nor did it help that he had a awkward stage presence in which he seemed to be trying too hard to be intense and earnest while shy and awkward, which didn’t quite capture the audience’s attention, as 3/4s of the audience was audibly chatting during his set. Adding to an overall bad set, while the material largely dealt with metaphysical and philosophical concerns and questions, they felt more like banal platitudes and superficialities. It’s a shame because I sincerely wanted to like the guy, his set seemed to feel painfully long – 30 minutes in. And in some way, having such a disappointing opener seemed to be a very strange and unfair choice. But somehow, it’s still better to be bad than to be boring.