Two concerts, one Tuesday night. The first, Miniature Tigers at Crowbar, delivered on upbeat dance-time fun and whetted my appetite for the second, Kishi Bashi at New World Brewery, which was transcendent, heart-squeezing tender, rousing, and it not only made me get down with full-on wild abandon but literally had me jumping up and down like a mad fool with a big ‘ol shit-eating grin on my face. [Text by Leilani, photos by Brian unless otherwise noted.]
In defense of Miniature Tigers, I only knew a few tracks but I’d heard good things about the Phoenix fivesome's live show and wanted to check it out. They didn’t disappoint with their fresh and adorable exuberance, and they were particularly excited to see the 150-plus people enjoy their Tampa debut. Their sound varied between sweetly nostalgic and infectiously peppy indie pop with muscular rockin’ rhythms and Beatles-esque vocal harmonies, to more synth-grooving dance numbers with R&B-velvety vocals or dreamier croons. There was a heavy focus on material from just-released fourth LP, Cruel Runnings, and they kicked off the set with that album’s first track, “Swimming Pool Blues,” part of its refrain a four-verse dose of “Yeah-Yeah-Yeah-Yeah-Yeah”’s that prompted head-bobbing and bopping from the cluster of folks around the stage.
Mini Tigers, in turn, wooed and engaged and really seemed to have an altogether good time with it; at one point, frontman-guitarist Charlie Brand and bandmate Rick Schaier (keys, vocals) leaned in for a mid-song kiss before a fake-out, and prompted lots of screaming cheers when they did some full-on tongue-sucking at the song’s conclusion (which I missed because I was scribbling about the almost-kiss). Another song found Brand actually jumping into the crowd to lead a sing-, dance- and bounce-along.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, but was preoccupied about making it to New World Brewery before Kishi Bashi's 11 p.m. start time, and the place looked pretty busy when I passed it earlier, so I bailed before the set finished.
Kishi Bashi is the self-recorded self-produced orchestral/avant pop project of Kaoru Ishibashi, aka K. Ishibashi (hence the name), born in Seattle, raised in Virginia, currently based in Athens, Ga. He’s played with Regina Spektor and Sondre Lerche but his association with Kevin Barnes and of Montreal (he recorded and toured with the psych pop band) seems to have rubbed off most, reflected in his electro-experimenting, pitch-shifted multi-tracked vocals and colorfully bright sonicscape adventures. He has an ear for catchy melodies that’s bolstered by his unquestionable virtuosic talents and a style of applying the fine musicality of his classical roots (violin is his ax) with the ingeniousness of modern looping and programming techniques. His rather intricate compositions veer into ‘70s art rock and prog territories (à la ELO and Yes) amid a vibrantly hued blend of Eastern-tinged chamber, psych and folk pop that just makes you feel good.
Live, the sound is just as radiant, blissful and charming as the recordings, with the added bonus of darling Kishi with his pink feathered Mohawk right there in the flesh, emanating light and joy and spreading it ‘round twofold with his giddy ecstatic sound and face-lit beam. On this night, he wore it through much of the two-hour set that he and his three piece band – beardy Tall Tall Trees banjo extraordinaire Mike Savino on a glowing red instrument, bassist Daniel Brunerd and a drummer whose name I didn't catch (David Heilman?) – played to a thickly packed (more than 250-paid) New World crowd.
Kishi kicked off with the opening tracks off 2014 sophomore album Lighght, the short loop of bowed violin solos in “Debut – Impromptu” followed by the lushly trippy ode of devotion, “Philosophize in It! Chemicalize With It!" – my favorite by far. He had me at the first “and if your body is a penny and dime…,” his pretty high-toned McCartney-esque piping carrying into the triumphant driving “Carry on Phenomenon.”
Kishi’s pizzicato chops are ridiculous; that guy can pluck a violin string like no one I’ve seen (Andrew Bird not withstanding), his fingers dashing up and down the neck or plucking slower more calculated notes or strumming and flicking strings as if on a ukulele or mandolin. He bows the same way, ferocious fast or wringingly deliberate, all the while his feet tapping effects pedals to shift and skew and warp the notes, or loop his orchestrations and add layers to the mix.
The mood sometimes veered into poignant realms, all of it so finely hewn and perfectly executed that, oh, it made my heart hurt, like the buoyant, sweetly tender balladry of “Q&A” that finds Kishi cooing the most sublimely melodic chorus in Japanese: “Hotaru Hotaru / futari no yume wo mireru hotaru no / Hotaru Hotaru tsuneru to yume ga / sameru hotaruyoru” (which translates to “firefly firefly two dreams we saw of fireflies with a pinch, we'll be awoken from the night of fireflies”); and the three numbers he performed completely solo, sans band, putting it all out there in a most unforgettably vulnerable manner.
Another highlight was his performance of Lighght’s epic double-prog-punch, “Hahaha Pt. 1” and “Hahaha Pt. 2,” the first featuring pitch-shifted chipmunk-chirruping vocals backing Kishi’s own higher-toned calls and sighs, its jubilant luxuriant instrumentals segueing into the quieter thoughtful interlude of the second, which urgently builds to a climax of fat basslines, whirring space-swirling synths and a chorus of ascending and descending multi-tracked vocals that climb to a choral peak.
There was a cover, “Live and Let Die” by Wings (and I’ll cop to liking it more than the original) and a seemingly impromptu performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” the last song of the night that began as the band started breaking down and Brunerd and Savino started jamming on the bass and guitar parts and suddenly everyone joined in, Kishi included, and it was a full true-to-form performance that got everyone who’d lingered back into dance mode, with lots of air guitar solos and general rocking the fuck out
It was probably one of the most epic, sweaty-uncomfortable but completely otherworldly musical experiences I’ve enjoyed in some time. Leaving that night, I was completely drenched in sweat, my cheeks hurt from smiling so hard and laughing in bursts of pure elation, and I was so high on adrenaline, it was a wonder I was able to sleep when I got home that night.