Without fully recovering from the mania that was Beach Goth over the weekend, I eagerly jumped at the chance to see Kishi Bashi at the Belasco this past Monday. I was first introduced to his whimsy with his newest LP, Sonderlust, an album I loved without context. This would be my first time seeing him live, but I may have been the only newbie. The crowd’s devout passion drove my own continually growing appreciation for Kishi Bashi.
Huddled together at the edge of the stage was the night’s opening act, Busman’s Holiday, comprised of two brothers from Bloomington, IN. Kishi Bashi’s equipment lined the stage situated for his set later in the night, leaving only exactly enough space to fit a bare bones drumset, a guitar hookup, and two microphones. The Rogers brothers didn’t need much more than that, though, to create as wondrous a sound as they did that night. Lewis’ vocals are somehow simultaneously powerful and gentle, singing songs of romance, adventure, wisdom, and so much more. The stories woven in their lyrics are modern yet filled with an old poeticism, marked by terms like ‘lonesome’ and ‘lament.’
Busman’s Holiday loved to banter with the crowd, only emphasizing how frickin’ adorable these two are. Addison took time to explain his personal handkerchief rule, where he would normally keep separate the one he used to muffle the snare and the one he used to wipe his brow between songs, but that night he was forced to use his brow cloth for both. As if an explanation, he declared, “we’re dandies! Just look at our socks.” Addison even kept us entertained while his brother replaced a broken string on his guitar. The audience at times didn’t seem very attentive, talking over the music, and making me miss what I can only imagine were great midwestern dad jokes or endearing stories about their childhoods. But I was more disappointed to only able to very faintly make out the sound of this special bowl instrument that Addison stroked with a careful precision. I would have listened to a dozen encore performances from Busman’s Holiday, but the rest of the crowd was ready for the main act of the night.
After a short intermission, the theme song for Netflix’s Stranger Things introduced Kishi Bashi’s backing band. Once Kaoru Ishibashi took the stage, we were off. His set was nearly two hours long, allowing for him to perform the majority (if not entirety) of Sonderlust, while also peppering in plenty of tracks from his previous releases. The set began with newer jams like “Hey Big Star” and “m’lover,” where the latter of which dispelled any thoughts of lingering laryngitis. Their show in San Diego two nights prior was cancelled due to vocal issues, but judging by the gusto in his falsetto on Monday, he healed up quite nicely.
Ishibashi was also generous with his banter, introducing songs and addressing audience members directly. He asked how many people in the crowd that night had been to his previous shows at the Troubadour, Fonda, or even his very first show at Silverlake Lounge. Many people cheered, giving me the impression that I was the only one there that hadn’t seen him before. But instead of feeling like an outsider, I felt welcomed by their energy. Every song I didn’t recognize, everyone else did, creating an unintentional back-up choir that became infectious.
Unsurprisingly, Ishibashi fed off this energy. When he wasn’t tethered to his piano, he danced with fervor, and that even includes moments when he was holding his violin. In fact, he went crowdsurfing with that little thing, never missing a beat as he floated around the room. As if that weren’t enough fan service, he even brought out a person in a t-bone steak costume for “The Ballad of Mr. Steak,” off the 2014 album, Lighght. I hope he found the costumed slab of meat busking on Hollywood Blvd, because #supportsmallbusinesses.
What set this concert apart for me was Kishi Bashi’s ability to keep us grounded. This wasn’t just a blissful romp; he also got political and emotional (but thankfully not at the same time). I felt Beach Goth was surprisingly absent of political rhetoric, but Kishi Bashi made up for it by emphasizing the importance of voting, specifically against a certain GOP nominee. “I write songs about love and unity,” he explained, “and so I can’t endorse a candidate whose name rhymes with dump and chump.” For the final song of his regular set, he looped vocals that went “Don’t. Vote. For. Trump,” then abruptly stopped- “by the way, if you don’t vote and sit this one out, that’s like voting for Trump”- then seamlessly jumped back in, leaving the main message repeating endlessly in the background.
As for the emotional moments, Ishibashi seemed to grow quiet and choke up as he introduced “Can’t Let Go, Juno” and “Manchester,” the former for personal reasons and the latter with empathy for a family in the crowd. They had recently lost a loved one whose favorite song was “Manchester”; the track was even played at her funeral. Just hearing the story made me misty, so you can imagine how devastated I was at the band’s beautiful harmonies sung in her honor. That was the final song of the night, left to reverberate among us, no doubt reaching her spirit, wherever she may rest.
Words: Zoë Elaine
Photography: Steven Ward