By Ashley Dean
It’s just after 11 p.m. on Saturday and the crowd at the Gothic Theatre stands transfixed by a solo violinist on stage.
This scene might not be what you’d expect for a weekend at a rock club, but Kishi Bashi works in the unexpected. With a small band that included a lit-up, color-changing banjo (which was the night’s opening act), he made the case for classical technique in modern pop music.
See photos below of Kishi Bashi at the Bluebird Theater in 2013:
Simply described, Kishi Bashi — real name Kaoru Ishibashi — plays indie pop. It might remind you of Dale Earndart Jr. Jr., but with more strings and mysticism. One moment the crowd is bopping along to “Hahaha Pt. 1” and “Carry on Phenomenon,” Kishi Bashi’s signature bow tie seeming to get in the way of his vigorous bowing. The next, everyone is settling in for him to close out the night with a couple solo numbers.
“The story behind this song is a creation myth,” he said, introducing “Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her.” “What if, instead, the Earth and its beauty and destructions and creations is actually the story of two lovers?”
He’s an otherwise not-chatty character on stage, pausing mostly just to introduce songs or ask a question he knows the answer to. (Is it OK if you play new music? Yes, of course. Please.) It’s cheesy to say, but he does the talking with the violin, drawing out such a variety of sounds that it rivals the human voice. With a giant grin often consuming his face, he plays with every technique a classically-trained violinist would know, throws in some looping pedals and runs a stylistic obstacle course. There are quiet, folksy ballads, bouncy pop gems and, in a show-stopping moment, an a-melodic bit of improvisation that was broken by a heavy kick drum beat, throbbing keys and a banjo riff, taking the whole thing to the Deep South.
It’s been less than three months since Kishi Bashi crowd surfed Reverb’s day party at South by Southwest, transmitting high expectations back to Denver through the photos. His performance Saturday night was not a let down, though the energy never reached crowd-surfing heights. It was just as enchanted as you’d hope.
Ashley Dean is an editor and designer for YourHub at the Denver Post and a new contributor to Reverb.