Kishi Bashi and Tall Tall Trees Light Up Thalia Hall

Kishi Bashi masterfully plays the violin. He strums it like a mandolin, plucks it pizzicato, and bows it in long sonorous strokes. He also loops himself and toys with pedals while literally never missing a beat. But he’s also so much more than just a prodigious violinist. Kauro “K” Ishibashi from Athens, Georgia first arose on the public stage when he toured with Of Montreal for nearly three years as their violin player. He’s played with other big names, too, like Regina Spektor. He often gets compared to fellow indie-pop violinists Andrew Bird or Owen Pallett, who also incorporate looping and beat boxing in their songs and performances. But, again, Bashi much more original than just a Bird-copycat. And at Thalia Hall for his six-month tour for his last album Sonderlust, Kishi Bashi shows us how he’s an artist who has just as much fun playing onstage as you spectating the concert. “Sonder is the realization that every stranger around you has a life as vivid and complex as your own,” he said after playing “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” And this idea informs his approach to performing live music: he invites each attendee to participate in the same space. Throughout the evening, Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees sang onstage with him and accompanied the band on banjo, vocals, and, at one point, bass guitar. Savino and Kishi Bashi make a fitting match, because they both approach their respective main instruments — ones that are embedded with generations of history and assumptions — with fresh imagination. Tall Tall Trees is a Brooklyn hipster experiment gone right. Full beard, flannel shirt, and lights in his banjo. And Savino interacts with the banjo like an alien visiting planet Earth for the first time. This is a very refreshing approach to a versatile instrument after the flash-in-the-pan fad of faux-folk bands, like Mumford and Sons. When the band first took the stage, they looked like The Soggy Bottom Boys singing “Man of Constant Sorrow” in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, as three of them crowded around one microphone. The first four songs they played where acoustic and felt laid back, but the songs, like “Bright Whites,” felt just as colorful. They played plenty of songs from Kishi Bashi’s whole catalogue. Though Sonderlust’s embrace of more electronics and keyboards shined in their funky grooves, like “Say Yeah” which even included a jazz flute solo that sounded like Connan Mockasin after listening to Grover Washington Jr. Ishibashi surprised the crowd when he sat down at the keyboard and started playing Styx’s “Come Sail Away.” He continued to belt out the lyrics along with the crowd until a person dressed in a large steak costume walked on stage. Naturally, they then played “The Ballad of Mr Steak.” After playing the rest of his set alongside electric instruments, Ishibashi greeted the crowd with an encore by walking directly in the middle of the audience, playing completely acoustic and unmic’d versions of “Atticus, In The Desert” and “Manchester.” Kishi Bashi deserves much more than comparisons to Andrew Bird. Ishibashi deserves much more than just being known for touring with Of Montreal. And he, much like Savino with his banjo, deserves much more than being known as just an imaginative violinistic — he’s a master painter searching for new colors. He’s his own act now.
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Colin Smith

Colin Smith thinks that Chicago right now is the place to be for music. He works for Illinois Humanities, is a freelance writer, and plays psychedelic-pop songs with his band.