Kishi Bashi @ Sixth & I - 2/19/15

When it comes to stringed instruments, guitars dominate the world of pop music, and it is unusual for the violin to take central focus. Yet for Kishi Bashi (the stage name of K Ishibahsi, who is classically trained in the instrument), it’s the implement of choice. It is perhaps for this reason that his songs lend themselves so well to adaptation to a more classical form. Washington, DC witnessed this transformation last Thursday, when Ishibashi came to the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue to play a show backed by a string quartet.

From the opening strains of “Manchester” from his first album 151a, the audience knew that they were in for a special evening. While many attempts to adapt popular music to classical form fall quickly into the sort of music that one might expect to hear in an elevator or a grocery store, there was none of that at this performance. Instead, the music flowed beautifully, with arrangements that sounded like the songs had always been meant to be performed this way (even for covers of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place” and Beirut’s “A Sunday Smile”).  At one point, Ishibashi joked that he was “used to being the best violinist in the Kishi Bashi band,” yet he fell comfortably into his role, sometimes playing his own violin parts, and sometimes conducting the quartet during instrumental breaks. While most of his usual band was not present, Ishibashi’s regular collaborator Mike Savino (Tall Tall Trees) added banjo and backing vocals to many of the songs.

Kishi Bashi performing at Sixth & I 

Kishi Bashi performing at Sixth & I 

While much of the show was treated as a classical show, with the audience seated and attentively listening, it became clear that Ishibashi didn’t want it to be taken too seriously when, toward the end, he told the crowd to stand up and dance to several songs including “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” and “It All Began With a Burst,” to which they gleefully complied. For the encore, Ishibashi, Savino, and the entire string quartet came out and stood amongst the audience on one of the venue’s benches to play “Bright Whites.”

The show was opened by Busman’s Holiday (who also joined Ishibashi in the audience for the closing song), the indie-folk duo of brothers Lewis and Addison Rogers. With just an acoustic guitar, a snare drum, and a suitcase to back them, the siblings filled the hall with their strong vocal harmonies.

All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.

(See more photos from this show/Matt's work HERE)