Kishi Bashi String Quartet – Union Transfer – February 18, 2015
Sight and sound are the primary senses that an audience uses. And while they complement each other, it’s often said that one sees a band rather than hears one. The body isn’t given enough credit, the muscles and bones. They ache for hours after standing, but if it’s a good show, it’s a good hurt. Still, with that awareness of the body, on Wednesday night at Union Transfer, Kishi Bashi provided floor seating for those eager enough to arrive before the opener, Busman’s Holiday, which he justified by saying, “I know it’s unusual to see a show seated, but I saw one recently and it was great.”
That kind of playful, upbeat attitude was what came across in both Kishi Bashi’s stage banter and his music. After he strode onstage following his four-piece orchestra, Bashi brandished a baton with a maestro’s flair. His particular aesthetic was less traditional, as he wore a well-tailored jacket, dark vest and a plaid bow tie. The clothes were somehow reminiscent of his music, juxtaposing the classical and the idiosyncratic. It was heard on songs like “Bittersweet Genesis for Him and Her,” when Bashi explained that the lyrics told of how “Earth was created by a cosmic couple,” although when the music faded out, he offered, “Earth was destroyed at the end of the song.”
The music featured an unconventional approach to percussion through the work of the orchestra, as well as ecstatic drumming on the banjo(!) from Kishi Bashi’s partner, Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees. The two traded verbal jabs but also seriously blended instrumental parts when the musical moments called for interplay. To parse out the experience, it went back to this idea of sight and sound: Savino’s neon banjo glowing against the dark stage and Bashi’s high register sailing over the strings—the audience standing after “a seventh inning stretch,” only to stay upright until the final song, when Kishi Bashi, surrounded by his band, played an acoustic version of “Bright Whites.” It was quiet, lush and physically striking as the other musicians stood in a semicircle and watched for cues. It was a full sensory experience, as all good concerts should be.
—Jared Levy | @Playtonic