We are all special, unique, intrinsically valuable snowflakes, however clearly some of us snowflakes have their neurons hacked together to handle complexity the rest of us can’t imagine. Kishi Bashi is clearly one of these magical fucking sprites.
The setup couldn’t be simpler: one man, one violin and just a touch of dozens of pedals, switches and filters. With a candied, J-pop dinner jacket and natty bow tie, hearing Kishi Bashi without band gave the guy a chance to really wander down some tangential roads.
While a bow tie and a violin might lead some to suspect that you’re in for a night of pop-classicism, a la Rieu that would make you want to puncture your ear drums with a tuning fork, the reality is technical virtuosity mixed with spot-on pop sensibilities and a good dose of playfulness.
His is a stupidly complicated way to perform: using only your voice and violin build layer upon layer of tracks, speed them up, slow them down, filter them and keep playing footsie with those pedals to cut loops in and out. Despite this process being like scratching your head and patting your stomach while a trying not to step on a dozen rattlesnakes, Kishi Bashi manages to not only completely goddamn nail it, but also have enough control and headspace to be clearly having a massive amount of fun.
Generous, mischievious and experimental, Kishi Bashi jumps between songs old and new, as well as weave in realtime commentary (first time I’ve seen what I’m going to call “gig footnoting” which is being able to completely stop your song in order to make an offhand note about the music, before casually resuming the 26 things going on beforehand).
Tracks range from cerebral to folksy to urban-edged to pure, uncut pop fun. Crowd favourites predictably included some of the hits of his 2012 151a, such as Bright Whites, It All Began with a Burst as well as some of his more sombre tracks such as I am the Antichrist to You.
Where comparable artist Andrew Bird masterfully works in his alt-rock space, Kishi Bashi’s pop credentials are impeccable. His song writing is surprisingly clever as well as deft, his lyrics keeling from English to Japanese (with braver crowd members singing along to the Japanese bits they don’t quite get, and probably getting it horribly, racistly wrong).
Working in his unimaginably adroit beatboxing skills, Kishi Bashi uses pedals and filters to record loops then throw them into double or half speed, creating super-high or super-low variants of his vocal work.
It is not possible to accurately portray how much of a mindfuck this process is. A generic example might be: 2 bars beatboxing, 2 bars beatboxing over that, halve the speed, 2 bars beatboxing over that, pick up violin, 2 bars violin, 2 bars violin over that, 2 bars violin over that, let loops run, play violin melody over loops, sing over the top of all that, do some clapping.
Based on how complicated this is plus his improvising lines throughout, it’s kinda hard to imagine that having his band with him would have made this gig better. Being able to see him in full flight was amazing, and to have the constraints of his (no doubt awesome) band, would have been to put some limitations on how off the beaten track he could get.
Similarly, seeing him fully embrace the limitations and freedoms of live performance was a joy. Not all artists translate well from studio to stage, but Kishi Bashi takes his polished produced songs from album and adds the high-wire act danger of his complicated live performance.
Kishi Bashi, is some sort of pop wunderkind who may just be the right balance of batshit and a seemingly cool regular guy. Sadly for me, his open and generous performance style encourages crowd hand clapping, one of my most hated of crowd behaviours. Other than that: perfection.
Originally published in Rocket.