by Liam Morgan
Nothing is more satisfying than watching a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter successfully prove their musicianship on stage in front of a crowd. The thing that is special about Seattle-born Kishi Bashi is the joy and effortlessness that he exudes while doing it. After failing out of Cornell’s School of Engineering, Kishi Bashi switched directions and began studying film scoring at Berklee here in Boston. Originally a member of “Jupiter One” and “of Montreal”, Kishi Bashi embarked on a solo career in 2011 to much success. As a renowned violinist, many of his songs feature lush, string accompaniments with experimental violin loops that act as much of the percussion for many of his records. The unique sounds he is able to create using his violin have allowed him to evolve his music over the years.
The band’s presence transformed the traditional nightclub atmosphere of the Royale into a much more intimate venue. The usual heavy bass and disorienting lights were replaced with much more gentle sounds and colors. The flutist was covered in blooming flowers that poured down her 70s-esque attire as she confidently holstered her instrument on her back after each solo. The stage was complimented by a bird mid-flight painted quietly on the backdrop, echoing the imagery used on the cover of the band’s most recent album Omniyari.
The Japanese word roughly translates to having compassion for others simply by thinking about them. Bashi continually refers to this idea on his new album to express the struggles of the current socio-political atmosphere in the United States. As a Japanese-American, he embraces his cultural ambiguity and blends Japanese influences with traditional American folk, resulting in an unexpected sound that transcends cultural boundaries.
Perhaps where he shines best is when Bashi is left alone on stage. As his band exits midway through the show, he enters his element. Performing as a solo artist for much of his early career, Bashi is a master at looping, distorting, and layering his violin live on stage. He begins with a simple arpeggiated riff on his instrument. Suddenly, within seconds, he has pitched it up 2 octaves, doubled its speed, and distorted the sound. The simple string of notes is now an upbeat electronic groove. He adds melodies, harmonies, and layers of his voice until the room is engulfed in an orchestra of sound, all created from one person. A natural musician, the songs performed solo are just as lively and captivating as the rest of the set with his live band.
As if the venue was not already intimate enough, the band came back for an encore, but this time playing in the middle of the crowd. The audience formed a tight circle as each band member navigated their way to the center of the crowd with their instrument. Playing acoustic versions of their songs, the audience could see and feel the joy of each band member as they finished off the night with a bang.. As they finished their last song, it was easy to forget the audience was full of strangers and not lifelong friends reuniting after years apart. The show left viewers feeling lighter than before, a feeling one doesn’t experience after just any show, and anyone who has the chance to see Kishi Bashi live should not pass it up.