I first heard of Kaki King right around the time her second album Legs to Make Us Longer was released in 2004. At the time, I was obsessively exploring the acoustic performances and recordings of the ayatollah of rock-n-roll-ah Tim Reynolds, and someone on the timreynolds.com forums recommended checking out Kaki King. The recommendation, paraphrased 7 years later, was more or less “She’s like a female Tim Reynolds, man!”. While I think that statement is a fairly significant overgeneralization, in terms of the big picture it kind of works: Like Tim, Kaki possesses a unique mastery of the guitar. Saying that she plays the guitar is not entirely fair – it’s like saying that a doctor practices medicine, or a lawyer practices law. She doesn’t just play the guitar – She thumps, beats, taps, strums, and picks it, weaving the resulting sounds into intricate pieces of music (pieces of music that leave guys like me at home, unable to figure out the chord formation for a B#, wondering “Damn, what made her think to try THAT?”).
On June 27th, Kaki brought “Traveling Freak Guitar Show” to the Old Rock House. This was a rescheduled date – originally Kaki was supposed to stop at St Louis in March, but an injury resulted in the St Louis date (as well as several other dates) being cancelled. Incidentally, the rescheduled date worked out well for me, as I would have had to miss the March concert but was able to make it to this one. The 27th was a Monday, and in an effort to be a little bit less of an old man, I decided to brave the wild, wild world of “going out on a week night” to see Kaki perform. Fear not – this sudden youth is temporary, and I go right back to my curmudgeonly ways in the next review.
This was my second time seeing a concert at the Old Rock House, and my first seeing a show that was a part of the ORH’s Listening Room series. The biggest difference between normal ORH shows and Listening Room shows is the layout of the main floor. The ORH is typically general admission/standing room only on the main floor, and general admission on the second floor with some limited seating. For Listening Series shows, the main floor dance floor is converted to “reserved” limited seating (which is still first come first serve, but access is limited to those who bought reserved seating tickets) and the rest of the venue is general admission. We bought reserved tickets as I really wanted to be able to sit close and be able to listen and see without having to see over, around, or through a bunch of other people. I was also taping the show (which will be available on archive.org’s live music archive once it’s tracked and ready) and wanted to be able to get a prime location to set up shop with my gear, so the reserved section seemed like the best option. I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be anything keeping people without reserved tickets from coming into the reserved section and claiming a table, but the ORH staff did a great job at making sure that only the right folks were allowed into the reserved section. My only complaint about the venue is that for whatever reason some of the cushy bar stools in the reserved area were kind of wet. They were dry on the surface but somehow the middle of the cushions were wet, and by the time I noticed and moved to a dry stool, my ass was soaked. Like, “Did that guy piss himself?” soaked.
Doors opened at 7PM, and the show was scheduled to start st 8:30. We arrived at around 8:00 and set up shop at a tall bar-height table against the wall near the front – not in the center of the room, but still a great seat, and I wouldn’t be obstructing anyone’s view with an eight foot mic stand and 18 inch shotgun mic. Kaki hit the stage promptly at 8:30, and played for roughly 90 minutes.
There were three big things to love about this night. First, the crowd. I generally hate people in large groups – anyone who knows me will confirm my disappointment in our species as a whole – but this was a group of awesome human beings. I have never been to a concert with such a quiet, intimate, respectful, and interested crowd. Sometimes intimate settings are ruined by the random bad apple – the obnoxious crystal meth fiend, the guy on a cell phone, the drunk girl who won’t shut up – but there was none of that here. This room full of people was so quiet and attentive that I could hear the springs in the seats squeak when the person in front of me would adjust how they were sitting. This was my first Kaki King show, so I don’t know if all of her fans are this exemplary or if we just really lucked out on this Monday night, but this crowd was perfect. I wish that more people behaved this well during every quiet, acoustic performance – it would do great things for my anger management issues.
The next thing to love was Kaki herself. There is nothing worse than a performer who gets on stage and acts like they have someplace they’d rather be (even if it’s true). On the flip side, there is nothing better than when a musician is genuinely engaged with their audience and interested in being there and spending their evening with us, the fans. Kaki was personable and chatty with the crowd the entire night. She talked at length in between songs about a variety of subjects ranging from the Gateway Arch to Brazilian bikini shopping to gay marriage rights. She shared the stories behind the music (or the post-coital picture used in one of her album covers). She even explained the origin of the various guitars that she played – my personal favorite being the Veillette Gryphon 12 string (but the 7 string acoustic with the fanned fretboard layout is pretty rad, too). There wasn’t a single moment where I doubted that she genuinely wanted to be there, in that room, with us.
The final thing worth loving (arguably the most important item on the list) was the performance itself. As someone who tinkers with a guitar now and then, seeing her create was a fascinating experience. Sitting in this room and watching her hands move effortlessly in complicated patterns and rhythms (and making it look really, really easy), noticing the occasional cringe in response to the unexpected technical glitch, or seeing the concentration in her facial expression or the discomfort in her posture when reaching for a really tough stretch made this hour and a half set one of the most memorable and remarkable live performances I have ever seen.
I am, unfortunately, still piecing together song names for the full recording of the show, so at this point I still don’t know what the full setlist was. We did, however, make it a point to try and capture as much video as possible (and nearly filled up a 4GB memory card in the process). I will link to all of the videos at the bottom of the review, but here are some of the really interesting and stand out performances from the evening:
Note that I can’t possibly imbed all of the youtube videos I have. Seriously, go to the bottom of the post, click the links, and watch them all. They’re all worth checking out.
This song, Brazilian, is pretty cool. Before she started playing she told a story going into great detail about the pleasure of shopping for bikinis in Brazil, compared to shopping for one in the states. Having never bought a bikini in my life, I’ll take her word for it. Kaki’s playing is impressive enough on its own here, but she lays down some really complicated percussive patterns on top of what is already a complex set of notes and chords.
Kaki performs her version of Andrew York’s “Andecy” in this video using the seven string guitar that she had custom built. No crazy percussive rhythms, but definitely some fancy fret work and a beautiful song.
Playing with Pink Noise – In spite of a technical snafu mid performance, this song really shows Kaki’s percussive playing style quite nicely. It quite nicely sums up what left me so impressed about the night.
This is a song that Kaki wrote for her sister’s wedding. If you have ever played – or tried to play – a guitar, watch this video. This shit is nuts. I just can’t get my head around how she can play so many notes so quickly and make it look so simple. Plus, she plays it on the Veillette, which makes it 50% more awesome by default.
I’ve said some glowing things here and I’m sure that I’ve come off as the superfan, but believe me when I say that there is no hyperbole in any of this review – this evening really was as fantastic and perfect as I’ve described above. Kaki King’s set was a 90 minute display of instrumental virtuosity and music-as-an-art-form, and Kaki is a master of her craft. If you think that there is even a possibility that her music may appeal to you, and the “Traveling Freak Guitar Show” (her name – not mine) is stopping in your part of the world, take a chance on it and go.
Playing With Pink Noise
untitled new song
Doing The Wrong Thing
Zeitgeist (with Dan Brantigan)
Night After Sidewalk