I think most people enjoy attending concerts where they know all the songs. I know i do. As much as going to a concert is for experiencing art in motion, it is also a selfish pursuit: you want to hear your favorite songs, and you don’t want them fucked with. There is a certain thrill that comes with the anticipation of a crashing bridge, or the appreciation of an understated vocal ad lib.
This approach is sometimes prohibitive to hearing new music, whether it be a new band or a performer debuting new material. But, no matter how well prepared you are, there can always be an opened band or a strange tune that punches past your lack of karaoke intimacy with to make you fall hard into aural love.
I found myself at the NorthStar Bar with a motley assembly of some of the most talented people i know to see just such a stranger: Kaki King. Anthony had described her to me by email earlier in the day – “Imagine Ani DiFranco on crack … She uses her right hand on the fingerboard to tap out bass lines, and her left hand on the fingerboard to play melodies simultaneously. It’s pretty impressive.”
I’ve come to accept my mediocrity as a guitar player — i’ve been playing only two years less than both Anthony and Kaki, but i am still easily impressed by simplistic guitar pyrotechnics. I was prepared to see a few interesting tap solos and some intricate picking, and to generally have my playing be humbled.
Really, though, i was not prepared.
I’ve seen a lot of random opening bands, many of whom i’ve derisively blogged about the next day, but Kaki King is the first artist since Peter Mulvey (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Erin McKeown) to ever leave me with my eyes unblinking, my jaw hanging loose, and my fingers twitching just in contemplation of my inevitable attempt to replicate the performance before me.
Kaki is, in short, the most astounding acoustic guitar player i have ever witnessed. It wasn’t just the casually arrived at alternate tunings, the tap & hammer solos, or even her simultaneous strumming & drumming on the guitar. It was her personality — quiet and simply smiling, but with a quick wit hidden beneath her swath of out-grown bangs. It was her ease — the way that after the audience’s obvious favorite song of the night she remarked to the effect of “That isn’t really finished yet; sometimes i just play the songs live and let them go in the directions they want to.” The way that, as opposed to how people joke about it with me, i really could not tell when her casual tuning and fretting ending and her songs began because at any point her hands were on her guitar the performance was underway.
Kaki has some MP3s on her site for your perusal, and while they will not replicate the awe that i was in on Tuesday night, i think they still speak adequately for themselves. And, please keep in mind that i typically range from indifferent-to-resistant when it comes to instrumental music, so Kaki must be pretty damned good.
Must be? Hell… she is.