The last time Kishi Bashi performed in the Hampton Roads region, he played two very distinct shows, which showcased the myriad of musical styles in which he exists. The second night took place at the Chrysler Museum’s glass studio as a part of their Third Wednesday (now Third Thursday) series, where he performed mostly solo against a backdrop created by the use of a projection screen and glass records created by local artist Hannah Kirkpatrick. But on the first night, audiences were treated to a different side of him as he performed with a full band at the now-defunct Jewish Mother Hilltop. At times, his trademark violin and loop pedals would be set aside for a thumping bass line or he would dance across the stage along to a drum beat. The show ended with a rousing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” in which his violin replaced Jimmy Page’s fiery guitar solos. When he wasn’t playing, chances are he was crowd-surfing.

 

His new album, Lighght, (out now on Joyful Noise Records) can be seen as a combination of both of these shows. It resides in a world where elements of pop, acoustic ballads, prog-rock, classical music, and disco all coexist; often times, this happens on the same track. “Carry On Phenomenon” begins with a twinkling synth line and explodes into a massive chorus featuring rising multi-tracked vocals, cello and a twisting violin line that evokes the works of ELO and The Moody Blues. The 70’s vibe appears several times on the album due to the use of vintage Moog synthesizers on tracks such as “Once Upon A Dream (In Afrikaans)” and the two-part “Hahaha” which, in its seven-minute run time, changes course from a mid-tempo love song to a miniature prog-rock masterwork of plucked violin strings, acoustic guitar, and alternating warm humming and squealing synths before a finale more suited to disco floors than concert halls. And “Q&A”, a song that has been featured near the end of Kishi Bashi’s live set in recent years, seems poised to become a prime choice for future first dances for wedded couples with its romantic lyrics of wingmen, criminal accomplices, and fireflies going “cray” accompanied by a strummed violin that could easily be mistaken for ukulele.

 

But the real high point of the album occurs at the very beginning with the one-two pop punch that is “Philosophize With It! Chemicalize With It!” and “The Ballad of Mr Steak”. Like “Q&A”, “Philosophize” has been heard in several iterations over the years, first as an exclusive track for his Japanese audience, a piece used to flesh out his solo sets back in the States, and as a 7” single that served as a “rough cut” and an interim release between albums. Here it receives a full band treatment, complete with drums, jangling guitar, handclaps, and a chorus that ascends into the stratosphere. “Mr. Steak”, a song about an anthropomorphic piece of meat “that likes to booty booty shaky shake”. Since it’s no fun to dance alone, we’re compelled to join him on the dance floor with a funky, bouncing beat and a mid-song violin solo that feels like this year’s version of the saxophone from “Midnight City”.

 

Kishi Bashi finally returned to town on June 9th, appearing at the Norva with full band in tow. Based on the material heard on Lighght, it seems near impossible to walk away from that show without a song stuck in your head and a smile on your face.

 

 

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