Live Show Review: Kishi Bashi and Guster

Location: Columbus, OH
Venue: Newport Music Hall
Date: April 16, 2014
Cost: $29 ($25 + $4 in “convenience” fees)
Merch purchases: One Kishi Bashi t-shirt ($15)

By: Kris Kotlarik

This is probably something I should have done long ago, but Over The Seize is rolling out a new live review format, the guide to which can be found here.

When it comes to acoustic shows, there is rarely a middle ground; I either love it or am completely disinterested by it. And it is a really odd that I, a “metalhead” by most metrics, would start a live show review feature with an acoustic set and an indie rock radio staple, but:
A: The upside to not thinking about genres is that you’ll always surprise those who do.
B: Kishi Bashi (a pseudonym for Kaoru Ishibashi) is amazing.

I became enthralled by Kishi Bashi’s music last year and since then missed an opportunity to catch him at the Fashion Meets Music Festival (FMMF) later that summer. And even though I was having an epically awful series of days and mostly wanted to cover the whole week in gas and set it on fire, I dragged myself out and was treated to a performance that exceeded my already-lofty expectations.

Watching Kishi Bashi play “acoustic” is a sight to behold; he has one violin, which he is quite proficent at, as well as two microphones, an adept beatboxing skill set, and an outlandish gear armada that helps to loop all of this together. On top of this highly advanced getup is his on-stage personality, as he comes across as an extremely genuine performer. Things got off to a rocky start when he spent a little bit too much time trying to get the crowd to clap with him, but something seemed to click from there and he managed to get the audience engaged without making frequent use of the typical live cliches.

The other quirk to his set was the frequent improv breaks, most notably one section towards the end in which he reached for his phone in order to record his latest looping creation. He apologized profusely and acknowledged how unprofessional it probably looked for a musician to be putzing around with their phone onstage. But he has absolutely nothing to apologize for, as his improv was just as captivating and entertaining as the songs themselves.

Among the best cuts was the closing tune, “Manchester” off of 151a, which, while good, was merely a slight letdown from some of the ludicrously amazing live video footage of this track. Nonetheless, the payoff is immense and rewarding. While setlists matter, it doesn’t really matter in a case like this. Even songs like “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” and “Bright Whites,” two typically upbeat indie dance tracks, were presented in a way that was enjoyable for the most casual of listeners. Songs that were already solid in their studio form, like “It All Began With A Burst,” took on a different and exciting feel with Ishibashi looping loops within loops on top of loops to create a coherently chaotic concoction. His vocals were also stellar, never wavering.

As an added bonus, Ishibashi is quite enjoyable to talk to offstage; he spent a rather large amount of time at the merch table talking to fans and posing for pictures. He seemed to be, for lack of a better word and meant in the best way possible, inquisitive of my Strapping Young Lad hoodie. Next time, I’ll bust out my Skeletonwitch shirt and see what he says.

Overall: Kishi Bashi puts on a vivid, quirky, and downright excellent performance.

Rating: 4.5*

Out of full disclosure, I should probably mention that I had little to no prior knowledge of Guster, who shipped up here all the way from Boston, prior to this show. Having already received everything I came for, I became quite delighted by their live setup: A small battery of guitars, one glockenspiel, one trumpet, an electronic double-decker keyboard, and most interestingly, two different percussion sets. One of the drum sets was equipped with bongos and congas, while the other was a more traditional kit.

Brian Rosenworcel, the band’s chief percussionist, could often be seen playing the entire bongo/conga kit with his hands, including the snare drum and cymbals. His showcase track was “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,” which features some especially swift handwork from Rosenworcel that fired up the crowd. This was my favorite track of the set; it reminds me somewhat of the title track to Devin Townsend’s Ki, which starts off slow and meandering but builds up into a powerful but nuanced sound. The trumpet had a somewhat limited usage rate, but its presence on tracks like “Red Oyster Cult” and the very prog rock-ish “Ruby Falls” added a unique flavor to the band’s generally airy sound. They also invited Kishi Bashi to the stage to play on two tracks to further add some unique energy to the show.

Guster is noticeably more subdued on stage than Kishi Bashi, but they were still quite adept at keeping the crowd interested. While I can’t say their (almost two-hour) setlist completely won me over (their offerings are generally far more mellow than I usually go for, especially in a live setting), they clearly care about their fans and/or see absolutely no need to try and push record sales. At the merch table, their CDs were all priced at X, where X = whatever you want it to be. That’s my kind of math. The ticket also came with a downloadable code for their newest album, and they are streaming their recent full-length album, Evermotion, on YouTube in high quality, complete with an interesting background video. The shirts and other merchandise (I even saw some Guster oven mitts in the crowd) were all reasonably priced at $15 or less, which is far better than what I can say for the vast majority of metal shows that I attend.

Three of the members of this band have been in the group since 1991 (the other since 2010); at this point, it feels like their concerts are a celebration of their evidently large fan base. Assuming they stuck to what they said at the beginning of the set, they played at least one song from six of their albums, only leaving out their debut. That’s what I call a celebration.

Overall: Longtime fans of the band had to have been happy about this set, and the venue is nearly perfect for them. As for me, I’m intrigued. Even if I don’t like what I find on the studio albums (and so far, I generally like what I am hearing), they still deserve plenty of acclaim.

Rating: 3.5*

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