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Live Show Review- Kishi Bashi at the Cox Capitol Theatre

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Kishi Bashi with Thayer Sarrano at the Cox Capitol Theatre, August 26, 2015

By Justin Cutway

Back in June a buddy of mine convinced me to head down to the Capitol to see Guster. I’d never heard of them, never heard any of their music, and the only reason I went was to give this family-man friend of mine a reason to get out of the house. I found Guster to be bland, dated, and completely forgettable (but Guster fans are dedicated and really seemed to enjoy themselves). If not for the opener, I would have purged this show from my memory banks to make room for a grocery list. I will always remember this night as when I first heard Athens-based Kishi Bashi.  Kishi Bashi (the name for Kaoru Ishibashi’s solo project) performed virtuosic and live-loop heavy show that was equal parts fun, witty, free and precise. After the first few songs I was a fan and I’ve been anticipating his return ever since.

Georgia-born and Athens-based Thayer Sarrano opened the evening. She started with a couple of solo acoustic numbers and almost immediately had the crowd mesmerized. With each song, she drew more and more of the crowd to the stage with her simple, yet delicately syncopated guitar playing and hauntingly angelic (at times almost child-like) voice. If she had chosen to play an entirely acoustic set that night, I don’t think anyone in the audience would have minded, but when her drummer and guitar player came out and she picked up her electric guitar, things started to take on a much more physical texture. It’s not that it just got louder.  It was how the rumbling drums (and almost phantom bass it created) coupled with flashes of guitar noise allowed the audience to fully take in and appreciate Sarrano’s gentle, thoughtful voice. The songs went from being ghost stories told around a campfire, to songs that felt like a very real and mysterious adventure. While it is a sound that almost immediately brings to mind Mazzy Star and Sarrano’s dark and foreboding (yet somehow upliftingly confessional) songwriting feels somewhat like Chan Marshal’s (aka Cat Power), she is definitely, as her website says, “forging her own path into a southern-psych-dreamland.” I enjoyed the trip Thayer Sarrano took us on and look forward to her new album “Shaky” which comes out on 8/28/15.

Before Kishi Bashi took the stage the crowd’s building energy began to take on a feeling of anticipation for a long lost friend’s homecoming. It was the same feeling I remembered from June. He has a very sincere relationship with his fans and it’s refreshing to see.  I’d spent the last couple months periodically listening to Kishi Bashi’s last two albums and was anxious to see how they would be pulled off in a live setting and with a band.  The sounds these fellows pulled out of their instruments on stage proved they were more than up to the task. For this tour the band was made up of drums, bass, keys, banjo (by Athens’ very own Tall Tall Trees), and of course Bashi’s violin. Bashi is a master of using his violin, voice (even the occasional beat-box) and a loop pedal to build melodic, massive sounding and danceable rhythmic orchestral pop songs. The amazingly precise and talented band backing him up was more than able to keep up and added a bit more body and authenticity to the music as a whole. This made popular songs like “Carry on Phenomenon” from last year’s Lightght even more energized and vivacious. Even though there were times when songs would stray in to new-age jam territory, it was just a matter of waiting for the band to jump the track and send the song into a completely different direction with Bashi effortlessly controlling it all. As the show was coming to an end, Bashi came back on stage by himself and played a beautifully subtle version of his song “Manchester.” Just one man with a violin on stage singing lines like “I’ve read the signs, I haven’t been this alive in a long time.” with an adoring and gleeful audience backing him up. That’s what makes Kishi Bashi so special.  He’s the kind of musician that uses his performances to make a connection with the audience that is more than just musical. You can feel it and see it on everyone’s smiling faces and you have to be there in person to appreciate just how real it is.

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