Last Wednesday, innovative violinist and former of Montreal member Kishi Bashi (also known as K Ishibashi) kicked off his North American tour at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton with a stunning performance, making good on the reputation that landed him the honor as favorite new artist of 2012 by NPR’s “All Songs Considered.”
Local duo Fideles started the night off in their debut performance with a soft set of folk music, including “a song about really kind trees.”
They were followed by Tall Tall Trees, consisting of Mike Savino, his banjo, a horse-hair bow, a drumstick, an array of pedals and loopers, and a wealth of energy.
Tall Tall Trees is typically known as a band with multiple instrumentalists, but Savino had no difficulty filling the hall even without his usual collaborators. He alternated between using his banjo as a percussion substitute, bowing on his banjo and simply shredding on it. In looping these all together, Tall Tall Trees might as well have been a five-piece jam band for the diversity of sound elicited from a single ornate instrument.
In between his mix of folk-rock and bluegrass songs, Savino charmed the hall with one-liners and easy conversation, greeting the crowd with, “Hey Northampton! This is my first time in you!”
Throughout the set, Ishibashi and his bleached-blonde faux-hawk could be seen casually walking around the Iron Horse, but it wasn’t until Tall Tall Trees’ final song that Ishibashi finally came onstage to accompany Savino in playing “Waiting on the Day,” a mixture of bhangra and blue-grass, which instantly electrified an already enthusiastic crowd.
After Tall Tall Trees finished shredding on the banjo, and following a short intermission, Kishi Bashi returned on stage and began riffing out the first track off of his album “151a,” “Intro / Pathos, Pathos,” giving his accompanists, Tall Tall Trees and Zim Zim (also known as Elizabeth Ziman of Elizabeth and the Catapult), a moment to join him.
In an interview with the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, he discussed his lineup, saying that this show was the first with the ensemble. He had known and casually played music with both Savino and Zim Zim for some time, and had wanted to add more to his shows through accompanists.
Usually playing on his own with pitch pedals and loopers and other effects, with some occasional beat boxing, Ishibashi is essentially a one-man symphony, but together with his new touring band, Kishi Bashi was able to produce so much more.
Zim Zim provided strong rhythmic support as well as some keyboard. Meanwhile, across the stage, Savino kept a steady flow of music coming with his crafty banjo playing, and in the middle of it all, at the center of the stage and epicenter of the show was Ishibashi producing grandiose and emotional music that literally shook the walls of the Iron Horse. This was not Ishibashi’s first foray into collaborative music making, but it seemed to be one that worked well for him. In the past, he had gone on tour as a member of of Montreal and before that he was an active member of the Brooklyn-based band Jupiter One – a group that is currently on hiatus.
When asked about these collaborative efforts, he said that he didn’t foresee any work being done with Jupiter One anytime in the near future.
“I needed to take a break from (Jupiter One),” he said. “I got kind of burnt out… I freelanced for awhile, touring with Regina Spektor, Sondre Lerche … it was like a sabbatical … I feel a lot more free now”.
While touring with Spektor “at some festival in England,” he met Kevin Barnes, the man behind experimental indie-pop group of Montreal. They bonded over contemporary classical music and Ishibashi went on to join of Montreal for some time. It was while touring with of Montreal that Ishibashi was finally pushed to demonstrate his abilities as a solo artist.
“(Barnes) basically forced me to make my album … we were on tour and he said, ‘You can open up, but you need to have an album,’” Ishibashi said.
Ishibashi credits Barnes as having a great impact on him as a musician – Barnes appeared on Kishi Bashi’s EP “Room for Dream” in the song “Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived” – and noted that he’s a good friend, but maintained, “I like working by myself.”
However, when asked to choose one musician he could play with if given the chance, after a great deal of consideration, he said: “Tom Waits. Actually I don’t think I could play with him, but it’d be really interesting to meet him.”
Perhaps one day such a collaboration may be in order, but in the meantime working in a band with artists who maintain their respective musical identities seems to work for him. While debuting a new arrangement of “It All Began with a Burst” during the show, Ishibashi paid homage to his accompanists by looping the phrase “Tall Tall, Zim Zim,” into the foundation of the song’s melody.
While most of Kishi Bashi’s songs were whirlwind compositions that could be described as joyful, Kishi Bashi also managed to bring the hall to a hush with poignant ballads like “I Am the Antichrist to You,” which Ishibashi later described as “a love song, a very complicated love song.”
He ended his set with “Bright Whites,” a festive song that has been featured in Windows 8 commercials. He then returned to the stage a few minutes later in response to the crowd beckoning the band back for an encore at a deafening roar.
During his encore, he premiered a new song, “Philosophize in it! Chemicalize with it!,” for the first time in the United States. The song is currently only available in Japan, but Ishibashi has stated that he intends to release it with some other material later this year.
He finally ended the symphonic catharsis that was Wednesday night at the Iron Horse with the song “Manchester.”
Sabrina Amiri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.