For all the headache that can come with Bele Chere (the crowds, the parking, the dropped ice cream cones, the shirtless masses), there are occasional moments so transcended that they make the whole fried food-and-corporate beer-fueled madness seem absolutely worth it. And, while everyone’s transcendent moment is not the same, Kishi Bashi‘s Saturday night set on the Battery Park stage was certainly a memorable experience shared by many.
Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter K. Ishibashi (aka Kishi Bashi), who just settled in Athens, Ga., is known as a solo act, but for Bele Chere he elicited the help of bassist and drummer. Saturday was the first show that trio played together (and it was an absolute success). Offerings ranged from Ishibashi’s hits, like the bubbly “Bright Whites,” to improvisations and new material from a forthcoming album.
Improv plays an important role in Ishibashi’s music, since he builds it from the ground up using his violin, beat boxing and lyric loops to craft an orchestra of sound. While Ishibashi does recreate his recorded material live, he said at one point from the stage, of a particular song, “I never really know where that one is going, but I had to take a chance.”
The thing is, it’s no hardship to go along for the ride. Ishibashi’s mastery of the violin allows him to play both classically and experimentally, and to explore all of the territory in between. His vocal, too, ranges from round low notes to sweeping, ethereal heights. The dreamy “I am the Antichrist to You” echoed out into the space of the luminous rosy twilight.
It’s difficult to say if the spell cast over the Battery Park audience was Ishibashi’s alone. Following a grey and raining late afternoon, grey clouds parted for a rapturous sunset. Someone spun an umbrella in the air. Bubbles drifted through dancing bodies, matching the champagne sparkle of “Wonder Woman.” Some of Ishibashi’s songs are so light, so bubbly and happy, that they would seem like cartoons of songs were they not buoyed by their own intrinsic beauty. It’s the levity of beauty that Ishibashi taps with his complicated-yet-sweetly-simple compositions, and it’s that levity that lends just a twinge of sadness to the songs. A bittersweet poignancy.
That, and the musician is humble and personable. He commented that it was sad to think of Bele Chere ending. And that, since he’s been in the process of recording, playing the festival made him realize “how good it feels to be alive.” “You know what doesn’t suck?” he asked the audience. “You guys.”
Ishibashi’s glorious orchestra-pop “Evalyn, Summer has Arrived” made for the perfect July evening soundtrack as dusk glowed pink and silver. A girl danced with a blowup dolphin and the layered lyrics spun and swirled heady as a meteor shower. A new track, too, began with a charming pastoral and morphed into something heavily percussive with effects lending the violin the low voice of a cello.
Ishibashi came back on stage for a two-song encore, leading with an improvisation that he announced was “inspired by you guys” and finishing with the delicate and moving “Manchester.” That final song opens with a flutter of violin loops and then soars into a song so sublime it seems ion-charged if not outright magical. A passing police officer clapped along. A bus boy wandered away from recycling duties to shoot a video. The evening swelled and sighed and swooned.
Maybe not that last part. But maybe so.
Photos by John Zara.