Review: Kishi Bashi shows Sydney why he’s one of the world’s most entrancing performers

I can’t remember how I first came to know about Kishi Bashi. I know I fell in love with his debut record, 151a, back in 2012, and even came to interview the man himself that same year. So it must have been around then. But my adoration for the man born as Kaoru Ishibashi (get the name now?) has remained as consistent as his album releases (2014’s Lighght and 2016’s Sonderlust), so much so that his set at the Oxford Art Factory last week in Sydney felt as much as a trip down memory lane as it did a traditional concert experience.

This was also the first time I’d seen him with a band – both times I’ve seen him in the past it was solo – just Kishi and his violin. Here, he was accompanied by a drummer/percussionist and Mike Savino, aka Tall Tall Trees – who also served as the support act for this evening. Complete with his ‘Banjotron 5000’, the beautifully bearded Savino served as much as a focal point for the performance as Kishi did himself, artfully working his percussive banjo into the music, jamming through tracks off all three records.

The set started with “Statues in a Gallery”, admittedly one of the weaker tracks off his new record, Sonderlust. Featuring Kishi on the keys, it didn’t quite have the ferocity or technique that his violin focused material offers – though the following track, “Hey Big Star”, also a keys focused number, was a much better offering. Still, it was when “M’Lover” kicked in – his third track for the evening, and first on the violin – that things really picked up. With looping strings and high energy, this was the Kishi that I had come to love. Then, during “Atticus, In the Desert”, we got to see just how much Mike Savino would add to the performance – using a bow for the banjo (having previously been playing a bass guitar), which he beat for amazing percussive effect, leading into a phenomenal jam session.

The set continued with tracks from Kishi’s entire back catalogue, as he jumped between the keys and the violin – focusing primarily on the latter – and Mike brought the banjo in for good measure where required (even lighting it up towards the end of the set). The main set ended with a “sex dance party”, as Kishi described it – having being led in by a discussion of “post show pies” (PSP) and other Australiana references (heralded by his hilariously terrible Australian accent), before returning for an unplugged encore, with  “Manchester” off his 2011 EP Room For Dream closing the night.

In the end, the almost two hour set wasn’t just a showcase of Kishi’s extraordinary skills – particularly on the violin and vocals – but one that exemplified how well fleshed out his music is when accompanied by similarly accomplished musicians. It was also a night of unexpected variety. We moved from sultry ballad on the keys, to energetic violin looping experiences and explosive jams, before coming back around to an unplugged encore. He even performed completely solo for “Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her” and “I Am The Antichrist To You”, the latter in particular being a highlight of the evening. The result was an entrancing and energetic night of music, cementing the artist as one of the finest working today.

Kishi Bashi played the Oxford Art Factory on Thursday, 16th February. His Australian tour has come to an end but you can find his music and future tour dates on his official website.