Written by Craig McGreggor and photos by James ATX
For one special night, Kishi Bashi was a shepherd and we, his flock, were gathered in the pews of Central Presbyterian Church. “What if the universe was a cosmic love affair?” This was one of the many musing thoughts multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer-songwriter, violinist and filmmaker Kaoru Ishibashi had for his fans.
The night began with a preview of his upcoming documentary Project 9066 which, per his website, “follows Kishi Bashi on a dynamic musical quest to process his identity and the lessons learned from the Japanese Internmen.” Following the sneak-peak, the masses were treated to a warm-up from fellow Kishi bandmate, Mike Savino’s project Tall Tall Trees. Utilizing a complex assortment of personalized modified banjos aptly named Banjo-tron 5000 and Shreddy Banjione, he dove deep into the world of psychadelic-folktronica (if that’s the correct term) which included a multitude of effects, loops, beatboxing, slapping and built-in party lights and assistance from drummer Micah Thomas.
In a market flooded with immense talent, Kishi Bashi is truly an under rated artist, yet a humble bright big star in his own right. He’s a man with a true multitude of talent as a virtuoso both vocally and with a violin. In addition, he showed prowess moving from guitar and piano throughout the evening. His set began without the aid of drums as his fellow bandmates stood as close to the pews, far away from the altar as possible and angelically recited an acoustic run through of “Bright Whites,” “Q&A,” “Wonder Woman, Wonder Me,” and a new song that didn’t quite make the cut on his latest album to the disappointment of his own mother, “Unicorns Die When You Leave.”
Picking up from the intimate and moving to the energetic, the band recruited their drummer and performed a quintet of songs from the latest studio album and one of my favorite from 2016: Sonderlust. Aiding the Kishi and the band was Ember, the touring merch handler who is assisted in a number of vocals. In particular, Ember’s vocals reached spiritual levels in “Ode to my Next Life,” her range and strength echoing and filling the church at every peak and corner.
Picking up from the energetic and moving to the honest, Kishi proclaimed “I write love songs for a living. Some happy and fun, but some are about heartbreak. It’s especially tough when one of them is the single off your latest album.” It was at this time you felt the connection and love Kishi has for music as he left every emotion on the table for “Can’t Let Go, Juno.” A solo rendition, just him, the piano and several hundred fans telling the truth-through-song of a recent break-up Kishi had gone through.
The rest of the night proceeded with an improvisational piece in which Kishi played his violin against his own improvised instrumental set to be the opening theme to his upcoming documentary. Along with more songs from his first two albums: Lighght and 151a, it wouldn’t be a Kishi Bashi show with a visit from Mr Steak, who just so happens to be Grade A and is quite great, aye? Sending off the latter 1/3 of the show into a dance party was Ember, dressed as the T-Bone mascot herself, Mr(s) Steak. At this point, pews were mostly empty as fans flanked Kishi and the band to dance at the head of the church.
The night ended with the entirety of the church gathered center pew around Kishi and his band for a 3-song acoustic encore of “Atticus,” “Manchester,” and a cover of The Talking Head’s “This Must be the Place.” With that, Kishi Bashi & fellow bandmates hugged, high fived, shook hands, and bowed out to his flock for the evening.