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Word of mouth has it that Kaki King puts on a memorizing show. Word of publication has it that she’s a “Guitar God” (Rolling Stone). Word of nomination has it that she almost nabbed a Golden Globe. Yet for all these words, it’s funny Kaki King chooses to perform mainly instrumental music instead of singing. She plunges herself into a genre of instrumental choruses, difficult guitar techniques, and a mandatory familiarity with her fretboard – all without any hint of intimidation.
Last night’s show at Brighton Music Hall was an evening of powerhouse women, starting with Aly Spaltro, who goes by the moniker Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. The 23-year-old walked onstage in a denim shirt and oversized glasses that masked the incredibly raw voice she would rip out moments later in “Bird Balloons / Up in the Rafters”. Although she lives in Maine, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is a Boston frequent and favorite, winning the 2012 “Boston’s Best Local Musician” from the Improper Bostonian and often drawing crowds of devoted fans at each of her shows. From more the somber “Between Two Trees” to older, more innocent songs like “Milk Duds”, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper had the audience’s attention up until her staple closer “Crane Your Neck”.
What Spaltro and King both had in common, however, was their modest confidence and goofy persona, something neither hid from the moment they took the stage. Kaki King waved to the crowd before sitting in a wooden chair, surrounded by six different guitars as if they were kneeling in a semi-circle of prayer around her. The guitars ranged in size, color, sound, and string-number, making for an interesting backdrop and, of course, performance.
“Bone Chaos in the Castle” was first up, the opening track off her 2008 album Dreaming of Revenge. King hit the fret board with both hands to play a fury of notes while still managing to get bass hums and guitar strums out of it. A small film crew stood poised from different spots by the stage; the show was to be filmed since it was near the end of the tour. A camera zoomed its lens in and out to capture the action, something audience members in the back wished their own eyes could do, too.
“The song titles don’t really mean anything so sometimes I forget them,” she joked, in reference to Glow‘s “Holding the Severed Self”. Twangs of El Ten Eleven’s “Bye Mom” could be heard at times once she began tapping the fretboard. The winding “chorus” did, however, make the title seem fitting no matter what she said prior. The song was chaotic but calming.
When King raised her hand to begin “Streetlight in the Egg”, she paused. “Again [the title] doesn’t mean anything, so… so don’t try too hard.” Soon the song’s bass thumping sounded like a real bass drum, but it was only the impact of her wrist hitting the guitar’s face. King steadily strummed with her fingers and formed chords in her left hand simultaneously, her legs crossed in relaxation the whole time. Even her pointer finger alone carried an immeasurable amount of talent as it served as an adjustable clamp.
King grabbed a small Gryffin guitar whose sound almost became that of a harpsichord. It gave “Fences” an introduction that fell somewhere between fall and winter, the time when snow isn’t falling at night but you wake up to leaves coated in a white frost regardless.
The Georgia-native is not just a guitar player, but a one-man band. As she straddled up to play “Cargo Cult” — oddly enough the theme to this year’s Burning Man Festival in Nevada — King tied bells to her ankle and slid a box beneath her feet which she tapped for a bass drum echo. Nothing was too difficult for Kaki King to perform.
Once it’s April 2013, it will have been ten years since she released her first album, Everybody Loves You. To celebrate, King played “Carmine Street”, dancing, strumming, and plucking the frets as usual, but her right hand flitted off to the face of the guitar where she let her nails take over. They scraped the wood, drawing circles and then dragging themselves getting another texture of sound from what would look like a regular guitar. With incredibly long fingernails, it was hard not to picture how they would fair with John Butler’s of roots band John Butler Trio.
Even the microphone stand wanted a closer look at her skills, turning on its own towards her face (to which the crowd laughed and her warning glare stopped the microphone cold).
Kaki King stirs up similar sounds to Jaco Pastorius or even “Mood for a Day” by Yes, but manages to make every album her own. I didn’t know what to expect from her show, but left full of energy from an artist whole opens her mouth only inbetween tracks, showing that hands can speak for you (when the song title won’t).