Since releasing his first solo EP in 2011, Kishi Bashi (the stage name of Kaoru Ishibashi) has been making some of the most thought-provoking, intricate music in the indie pop world today. A multi-instrumentalist but known first and foremost for his acrobatics on the violin, Kishi Bashi has a distinctive style all his own (the only even somewhat close comparison to Andrew Bird fails to take into account all but the broadest strokes of either musician’s work). He released his most recent album, Sonderlust, last year, and his tour for the album at the time brought him to the DC area at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Last week he came back to town, playing the much more intimate setting of Sixth and I, where he had previously played with a string quartet in early 2015.
This show didn’t feature any extra musicians beyond his usual band, but that didn’t mean there weren’t surprises in store. The first of these came at the very beginning of the evening, when Kishi Bashi screened a fifteen-minute excerpt of a feature-length documentary film that he is currently working on about the Japanese internment camps in the US during World War II. While the clip was only a brief preview of a work in progress, it looks to be a moving and poignant film that will be well worth seeing when the finished product is out.
From there, the show was opened by Tall Tall Trees, the musical project of long-time Kishi Bashi collaborator Mike Savino. Playing his “Banjotron 5000” (a homemade banjo with lights on the inside of the head) as well as a new, custom guitar-style banjo built for him by his fellow Kishi Bashi bandmate Daniel Brunner, Savino played through a set of songs focused heavily on his most recent album Freedays, which was released in February.
After that, it was time for Kishi Bashi’s set, and the second surprise of the night. Rather than starting with the full electric band, Ishibashi, Savino, and Brunner crowded around a central microphone, where they played acoustic renditions of three songs, “Bright Whites,” “Beat the Bright Out of Me,” and “Q&A.” The band then went into its more traditional electric arrangement for tracks including “Statues in a Gallery,” “Hey Big Star,” and “Can’t Let Go, Juno.” The band left the stage and the projector came back on as Kishi Bashi played an instrumental duet with his filmed self, followed by an incredible solo rendition of his song “I Am the Antichrist to You.” The band then returned for three more songs, “Philosophize in It! Chemicalize with It!,” “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” (featuring a dancer costumed as a cut of meat), and “It All Began With a Burst” (complete with confetti cannons) to close out the set.
The band then returned for an encore, but the intimacy of the venue allowed them to do something unusual with it, and play unplugged out in the middle of the audience (as Kishi Bashi had done for the encore at his previous Sixth and I show as well). Starting with a Talking Heads cover (“This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”), the band played through several more tracks including “Unicorns Die When You Leave,” “Atticus in the Desert,” and “Manchester.”