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Published: 2007/03/20
by Sarah Hagerman

Kaki King, Borderline, London, U.K.- 3/13

It was a young, enthusiastic crowd that packed into the Borderline to see Kaki King’s debut UK show on a crisp March night that hinted that summer was hanging around the corner. Everyone huddled close against the stage, rubbing sweaty shoulders and dripping beer on each other, politely apologizing for nearly knocking someone’s black plastic glasses off their face. As Kaki snuck on stage, three drinks in hand (coke, beer, water) she looked visibly shocked to see such a turnout. Apologizing for being short, she then asked that the taller people let the short people move up front. Surprisingly, no one took her up on that offer; a sign of how chilled out the crowd was, a rarity for London audiences despite the sardine-like atmosphere.

While rotating between three guitars, slide, acoustic and electric, she made the most out of her one hour and fifteen minutes (thank you London curfews). Short though she may be, Kaki makes a long, tall noise. The opener filled the room with a haunting slide riff that gradually broke down over a series of ambient beats. It was a memorizing piece that easily slipped the audience into rapt attention. She moved on to the acoustic for her second song, “Playing with Pink Noise” from her second album Legs to Make Us Longer, which offers up the guitar as a percussive instrument as much as a stringed one. A calling card piece, she plays the guitar the WHOLE guitar, using every inch of it, picking high and fast on the neck while strumming all the way down the instrument and striking beats on every single inch of wood and plastic, mightily impressive to a Kaki virgin like myself.

Although much of the set was drawn from her new record, Until We Felt Red, with its shades of Ry Cooder and Brian Eno, Kaki managed to highlight her various styles throughout the show, from increasingly layered soundscapes (“Gay Sons of Lesbian Mothers”) to Leo Kottke-influenced riffing (“Carmine St.”). Her singing voice is breathy, at times more of a whisper, but it fits with the softness of lullabies such as “Yellowcake” and “I Never Said I Love You,” adding another rich dreamlike texture. I was expecting something along the lines of self-looping jams of Keller Williams and Xavier Rudd. As opposed to Keller’s quirky charm and scene-referential mish-mashes of cover songs or Xavier’s tribal ballads, both of which tend to break down into trance grooves, Kaki’s jams possess a sense of open space and building sound, like waves breaking on a shore.

Punctuating the song breaks with funny, self-deprecating stage banter, she came off as charming and smart, if slightly self-conscious, understandable for her first show in a country where she is still without a record contract. The Borderline is an intimate venue to begin with, but this gig seemed particularly special, like gathering around to see your buddy play guitar at an open mic night and cheering her on. When fellow NYC native and like-minded guitarist Kelli Rudick came onstage for a fierce duel, it seemed like a fitting cap to the set. But then Kaki ended the set with another slide guitar piece that slithered from a twinkling beautiful hum to a loud, dense crash of a heavy metal growl, leaving our ears ringing for an encore of Elliott Smith’s “Angeles” and the bouncy, beach bum instrumental “Lolita for Animals.”

Kaki King may not have the name recognition of some of the other solo artists in the scene at the moment, but she is quietly building up a repertoire and a fan base that will soon change that.

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