Kishi Bashi doesn’t live up to Northampton reputation

By Sabrina Amiri

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Last Tuesday, concert-goers at the Pearl Street Clubroom in downtown Northampton were treated to a smorgasbord of indie-alternative music from local band The Sun Parade, Brooklyn-based Elizabeth & the Catapult and finally, the headliner, Kishi Bashi.

Robert Rigo/ Collegian

Starting off the night, Northampton locals Chris Jennings and Jefferson Lewis took the stage as the core members of the indie-folk group The Sun Parade, a band which has been known to appear as a four-piece band in its entirety. Despite lacking a drummer and a bassist, the duo had no trouble filling the Clubroom with sound while Jennings played the guitar and Lewis the mandolin. The group played a number of songs off their latest album, “Yossis.”

After an all too brief 30 minute set, Elizabeth Ziman of Elizabeth & the Catapult took the stage alone and began to play a beautiful and swelling piano melody, highlighting her classical training and stopping only to crack some jokes about a moment of feedback from audio equipment being a message from the heavens.

She then transitioned into “Thank You for Nothing,” a somber piano ballad, and was joined by the rest of her band, a group of talented multi-instrumentalists, including drummer David Heilman.

The five-piece band had great chemistry on stage that complemented Ziman’s sultry vocals and very down-to-earth lyrics as seen in songs such as “Happy Pop,” in which Ziman’s sardonic lyrics channel a lot of malcontent towards a formal record label in an audibly pleasing way. Elizabeth & the Catapult rounded off their vibrant set with a cover of the song “When My Time Comes” by Dawes, which was a departure from their typical twangy indie-pop sound.

Shortly before 10 p.m. Kishi Bashi took the stage in a somewhat uncharacteristic manner: with a full band. Kishi Bashi is well known for being a one-man symphony, utilizing loop effects in his performance. On this tour, Kishi Bashi is accompanied by a backing band, including Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees, an exceedingly talented banjo player also known for looping and layering riffs live. In addition to Savino, Heilman reappeared on-stage to take up the drums yet again, as well as bassist Daniel Brunerd.

As soon as the band could take the stage, Kishi Bashi said “Hello again,” to the crowd, and looped it through an octave changer. The set started off with “Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived,” which was written by Kishi Bashi and Kevin Barnes, a longtime friend and former band mate of the avant-garde band, of Montreal. The sound of the song reflects the collaboration, starting with a smooth indie-alternative feel that moves effortlessly into an experimental groove punctuated by a dramatic violin with a faster tempo.

The band quickly galvanized the crowd with a few songs off of Kishi Bashi’s 2012 album, “151a”, before debuting a number of new songs. The first of the new tunes was a sweet and poppy song, regarding which Kishi Bashi jokingly told the crowd, “This might go on our new album, so I hope you like it, but even if you don’t we’ll probably put it on the album.”

The second new song was titled “Carry On, Phenomenon,” and Kishi Bashi told the crowd to “stretch [their] musicianship to the widest level.” The song differed from Kishi Bashi’s usual sound, lacking the usual loops and heavy layering. It seemed as though the song was a test of the band’s musicianship, and while foraying into new musical territory, the quintessential Kishi Bashi sound was diluted by Heilman’s strong rhythmic drumming and the fuller band. They pulled it back together for “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons,” a song which Kishi Bashi often states is one of the most difficult to play live.

Soon after, Heilman and Brunerd vacated the stage, leaving Kishi Bashi to riff with Savino together before moving into “Conversations at the End of the World,” a doleful melody which the violinist played with a sad smile on his face.

A few songs later, Savino left Kishi Bashi alone on stage to readjust his bowtie and dive into a solo performance of “I Am the Antichrist to You.” Without any other musicians to rely on, Kishi Bashi’s performance gravitated more towards his personal style, as he showcased his technical musicianship beautifully in the last several songs of the performance.

Alone on stage, the emotional impact of Kishi Bashi’s music was much more palpable. On his own the performer was affable enough to charm the crowd. He also took time to thank his openers, although he managed to forget the name of The Sun Parade each time he brought up his accompanying musicians.

The set ended with “Manchester,” and after leaving the stage for only a few minutes, the band came back on as Kishi Bashi jogged back on to an adoring crowd to debut another new song, titled “Mister Steak,” which was its debut live-performance. With the full band, Kishi Bashi’s violin and vocals were drowned out, although the song managed to be salvaged during the chorus.

To close the night, Kishi Bashi attempted a rousing performance of “Bright Whites,” featuring heavy-handed loops and beat boxing over occasional Japanese lyrics in a whirlwind of a performance. While the night could have ended then and there, the band churned out a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Kishi Bashi’s bassist emulated Robert Plant’s vocals exceedingly well as Kishi Bashi shredded his violin center-stage.

While the final song was a success, the jarring and abrupt change in musical styling highlighted a glaring issue that occasionally reared its head throughout the show. The classical contemporary and the experimental fusion that comprises Kishi Bashi’s work simply clashed with the alternative-rock addition of a full band, leading to a disappointing show for fans of the music.

Sabrina Amiri can be reached at [email protected]