Review: Kaki King, w/Janelle & Anthony, at the Hamilton DC, 2015-01-30

I first heard of Kaki King just a few months ago, which is really hard to comprehend. I spend a lot of time exposing myself to new music, and I pride myself on being aware of the up-and-comers. But to me, she came out of nowhere. Eve forwarded me an article, something along the lines of the ten best musicians you’ve never heard of. And for once, it was right. At least about kaki.

Darryl and I arrived early for the tech rehearsal and Q&A. After they brought us down to the venue and we chose among the best seats in the house (by the way, the Hamilton is a DAMN COOL VENUE, might well be the best venue in the city right now!), Kaki came out, and did a little show-and-tell with her guitar-controlled projection-masking technology, by which one projector displays video clips of choice on the screen behind her, and can be controlled by which notes she plays, and another projector projects clips directly onto her guitar, also controlled by what she plays.

These projections are controlled by Beth Wexler using some software described as edgy but accessible, in a process Kaki describes as collaborative, in that Beth will choose what clips, scenes or patterns will go up, and respond to what Kaki’s playing, and sometimes anticipate what’s coming next, and provide an appropriate visual for it. Once you see how it works, you can see how limitless it can be. The guitar is bolted to a couple of sawed-off mic stands so that it stays put within the confines of the projection mask.

She also showed part of her Oobleck clip. Oobleck is that mixture of cornstarch and water that comes alive and dances when agitated, for example, by low frequencies on top of a speaker. I was impressed already when the oobleck videos looked like some of the best I’ve seen, and more impressed when she told is the footage was shot in her kitchen.

After Kaki’s demo and discussion, she went backstage and the rest of the packed house was allowed in. Seat-choosing, meal-choosing and mingling occurred, and then it was time for the opening act. We ended up having a nice friendly couple join our table. She was a tiny little thing from Oregon, and he was a tall young guy from Maine. I don’t think they were a couple, proper, because at one point she started a sentence with “My boyfriend…” but then it trailed off. I never did find out what her boyfriend…

Being an Oregonian who had lived in Portland, I asked her of course what she thought of the Decemberists. As predicted, it sounded like she could take them or leave them. I think the adoration for the Decemberists might be reserved for people outside their area, or maybe just people of a certain musical persuasion. I pressed her a little bit on it, and she said that she had only had a few encounters with them, to which I prompted, “sexual encounters?” I guess I was testing her sense of humor. Make or break. Either she’s completely offended at this point, or she gets the joke. I think she got it, because she said, emphatically, “YES.” And she did talk to me again throughout the evening. Win win. By the way, she was half my size and polished off the same size pizza that Darryl and I each finished. So points for that.

Janelle and Anthony are a duo, recently engaged. They play a kind of music together that starts as sparse, melodic, sometimes melancholy spacy shoegaze, with light, clear guitar, bowed cello, and sometimes Janelle’s ethereal voice. Over the course of some of the songs, layers are added through long delay pedals and other effects are brought in, until the song spirals out into infinity in a cacophony of sounds, reversed tones, fuzzy flanged-out segments of pink noise, and the like (think Beatles’ Revolution 9), leaving a wake of flashbacks and destroyed villages in its path.  They’re good at what they do, and it was quite compelling, despite the table next to ours continuing loud conversation, spilling a drink and otherwise causing distraction from the show.

They packed up and cleared the stage, leaving only Kaki’s setup, the white mounted Ovation Adamas Kaki King signature (painted white for this purpose, and with a carbon fiber textured surface added for additional soundscape construction), a few pedals, the projectors, and a small mirror mounted at the end of the stage so that she could see what she’s projecting.

After a while, the crowd subsided into eating, drinking and quiet conversation while we waited for Kaki. The clue came when a pattern emerged on the big screen in the back. A drone sound began, starting as a kind of low feedback hum.

Kaki came on stage in a white jumpsuit with white sunglasses, matched perfectly to her white guitar. She sat and started playing, realizing during her first piece that something had moved, and her projection mask was no longer in line with the guitar. It was still beautiful, but she knew it was wrong, and we knew it was wrong, so it created a tension while we all watched her play and waited to see what she’d do about it. At the end of her first piece, she got up and notified Beth that it was off, and apologized to the crowd, acknowledging that the show is still evolving, and there are a lot of moving parts. Beth came up and adjusted the projector, and all was well, and the show continued.

During the show, so many things were displayed on the screen and the guitar – spirals, bubbles, street scenes, subways, boats at harbor, drawings, stunning computer-generated visual effects, etc., that it was easy to forget that there was a true guitar virtuoso up there on stage, making it all happen. She could play her songs on the stage, just herself, without visual effects, and those who appreciate music and playing ability would be just as amazed. Instead, she’s breaking new ground in this show, titled “The Neck is the Bridge to the Body.”

In the middle of the show, she inserted an adorable little show-within-the-show, a movie on the back screen about what it’s like, from the guitar’s point of view, to grow up as a weird little guitar, and how it perceives itself among a world of older, cooler looking guitars. The guitar’s “words” were projected on the guitar itself, as she “played” note for word. The cutest part of that video was seeing the guitar’s family in her home. They were all a bunch of other exotic Ovations, and their sounds were appropriately unusual, squawky and jangly and non-traditional. I suspect others who have spent some time around guitars would have loved that story.

Another piece seemed to be displaying postcards Kaki has received (from friends? from fans?) on the guitar as she played.

Kaki’s encore was a piece about the Philae lander that descended from the Rosetta spacecraft and LANDED ON A FUCKING COMET. With appropriate space debris visuals on the big screen.

Kaki is changing the face of guitar.  Literally.


No such thing

There are no coincidences, and there is no such thing as fiction.

When a writer puts words onto a page, intending to create fiction, he/she is really creating something else. As soon as the words are absorbed by a reader, they cease to exist as fiction, and become a part of that reader. That is, those words have entered the mind of the reader, and now have been given the power and authority to become memories, guide thoughts, and even participate in the decision-making process.

20060119154504!Trystero-smallThese things left behind by authors, these breadcrumbs, this detritus, lives on, often far beyond the end of the author’s life.

Ukulele: A Synapse in the Matrix

I believe I have stumbled upon a Cosmic Coincidence. Although I know now that there are no coincidences. Make of this what you will.

A few years ago, Amanda Fucking Palmer put this joyous piece of propaganda into the world — the Ukulele Anthem. It is compelling, it is infectious, it is humorous, political, and even sad.

This year, I participated in the great Reddit Secret Santa exchange, in which 212,000 people signed up to be secret santas for one another, and send each other surprise gifts.

Much joy could be had even for lurkers, spectators, because part of the fun of the game was posting photos of your received gifts on the exchange page. You can browse for hours, oohing and aahing, laughing and cringing vacariously with the recipients of strange, exotic, and sometimes plain awful gifts.

One thing I noticed this year was a preponderance of ukuleles given as gifts. Strange, because outside of various musical subcultures, one probably does not encounter ukuleles frequently in everyday life. Like accordions, they seem to appear at strange intervals in life, signaling a crossroads of sorts. The warning is clear to all but the booze-muddled and the heroin-soaked: Do not choose the path of the accordion, or you will be doomed.

I submit to you that Amanda Fucking Palmer’s glorious and well-orchestrated propaganda campaign for the ukulele is having its desired effect of spreading temptation globally. Gift-givers, not content on the destruction of their own souls, are sharing their evil payload with innocent Redditors, to ensure that none of them will go down alone.

I wonder what the shipping charge on a uke is, anyway…

Review: An Evening With Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer

Upon finishing up my listen of American Gods, I decided to shift the paradigm just a little bit, and move from delightfully compelling audiobooks to … performance. But just a little bit, as I kept Neil Gaiman in the mix, and added his beautiful, entertaining and sometimes naked wife, Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls.

Maybe it’s just the space I’m in, but I honestly had no idea just how entertaining this would be. Whether I’m listening to Neil’s poems, probably half of which are to or about Amanda, or Amanda’s absolutely captivating songs, I found myself with a grin on my face the entire time.

Especially… ESPECIALLY… “Judy Blume”…

What a joyful confession! Fuck the “decent church-going women, With their mean, pinched, bitter, Evil faces” who work so hard to ban the works of Judy Blume. This all the evidence you need that Judy Blume is vital. Someone needs to tell your kids the things that you’re too afraid to talk about.

Amanda also does a touching version of Death Cab for Cutie’s I Will  Follow You Into the Dark, dedicated to Ashlie Gough, who died of an overdose in her sleep at the Occupy Vancouver protests.

To be honest, the marriage of these two is so perfect that I’m not quite sure who to be jealous of.

Anyhow, please go out and buy this beautiful 3-cd set of live performances of the two of them, from their Fall 2001 tour.  You won’t regret it, I promise.

Murder Ballad of the Week: 1/26/15: Henry Lee, by Dick Justice

Another classic murder ballad, probably the oldest recorded version of this song. I mentioned the Nick Cave updated version in a recent post about watching the film 20,000 Days On Earth.  I decided to present the Dick Justice version here for this week.

Also known as Love, Henry, or Young Hunting, or Earl Richard, or The Proud Girl.  May slso be related to Young Benjie, Child Waters, and The False Lover Won Back, and may share the same origin.  Goes back to the early 1800s in Glasgow, according to one source.

I think I like Bob Dylan’s version the best.