The first time I saw Kishi Bashi live, I didn’t even know who he was. It was two years ago, and he was opening for my all-time favorite band, Guster. He performed as a solo act, and when I wrote my review of the concert, I described the feeling of listening to the beauty of his music as almost trance-like.
Since that concert in 2015, Kishi Bashi has released a new album—Sonderlust, which is amazing—and started going on tours where he is no longer the opener, but the main attraction. While I was impressed with the set he performed at the Orpheum two years ago, it has nothing on the electric performance he put on Monday night.
“I hope you have tickets, it’s sold out,” a stranger shouted at the line as he and his four friends sulked away from the High Noon Saloon.
The venue was turning people away because there was simply no space left. Even during the opener—Tall Tall Trees—the floor was packed with cheering fans ready for the concert. Tall Tall Trees rocked the crowd with his light-up banjo and experimental music.
“It’s always nice to get up on stage and try some shit,” he said before playing a love song about two birds: “The Seagull & The Eagle.”
The main event, however, was Kishi Bashi. As a musician, he is one of a kind. If you fused the intricacy and musicality of a string orchestra with the catchiness and upbeat vibes of a pop song, that’s what his music sounds like. His lyrics are honest and creative, sometimes telling a story, other times singing a love ballad for a steak. Nearly all of his songs include him masterfully playing the violin.
When he got on stage, he was joined by four other musicians who were all holding string instruments. Kishi Bashi, yielding his usual violin, asked the crowd if it would be OK if he did the first few songs acoustically. Of course, it was.
He started with “Bright Whites”—a song from his stellar first album, 151a. The song is one of his best, but in the studio version, it involves a parade of fancy drum beats and some electronic touches; hearing it played in such a simple and authentic way gave the song new character that was hauntingly beautiful.
After the acoustic performance, the group set up for their electronic act. Throughout the evening, there were so many instruments it was impossible to keep track of. The upright bass, ukulele, flute, melodica, guitar, mandolin, keyboard, drum set and violin were just some of the instruments that made an appearance. Kishi Bashi also made frequent use of his loop pedal.
Early in the concert, the songs “Q&A” and “Honeybody” stood out above the rest. Kishi Bashi then got on the keyboard and started playing “Come Sail Away,” by Styx. As he, and the audience, belted out the lyrics, a giant walking steak waltzed onto the stage and stole the show. Kishi Bashi then broke into his popular song, “The Ballad of Mr. Steak.”
As he sang, “Mr. Steak, he's such a bachelor at heart / He'd never met another cut / That likes to booty booty shaky shake,” the steak did just that; he shook his booty right at the audience.
After this, he would only play a few more songs before the concert would “end.” One of the best performances of the evening was “It All Began With a Burst,” which involved getting the audience to clap along and sway with the band.
Of course the concert wouldn’t be over without an encore. After relentless cheers from his audience, Kishi Bashi came out to play two more songs. The concert closed just as it began, acoustically. He and the rest of his crew came out, but not to the stage. They set up in the center of High Noon Saloon in the middle of the crowd. People near him turned on their cell phone flashlights to work as a sort of makeshift spotlight.
His final song, “Manchester,” is, in my opinion, a masterpiece. The crowd was nearly silent as he sang the quiet melodies without the assistance of a microphone. Several members of the audience even had tears on their cheeks when it ended. Then the High Noon Saloon erupted with applause.
Kishi Bashi is not only a musician to listen to, but a musician to watch, live.