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Kishi Bashi, LAVA Music Festival, Suffolk, VA- 5/16

Early in Kishi Bashi’s set at the inaugural LAVA Music Festival, the violinist and songwriter turned to his banjo player and asked for an “A.” He was greeted by an enthusiastic “HEY!” from the young crowd. He quickly shifted into grad student mode, noting they were breaking down the discursive barrier between the band and the audience. In one sense, Kaoru Ishibashi was a member of the audience, but Kishi Bashi is long removed from his days at Maury High School in Norfolk, VA. Just how far was evident in the story he told about traveling to Japan, getting wasted, and then finding a karaoke bar with his own “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” in its repertoire. After three tries, however, he could not best a “B” in pitch and rhythm accuracy on the karaoke version of his own song. He joked that this would be his only cardio for the day before bouncing his way through the beautiful dance number from 2014’s Lighght about a piece of meat that just wants to boogie.

The show presented a bit of a reunion as of Montreal (his former band) performed after Kishi Bashi. The camaraderie between the two bands was evident when Kevin Barnes and company arrived back stage. Leaning on the stage in the shade as the sound techs bullshitted and vaped, I asked Mike Savino, also known as Tall Tall trees, also known as Kishi Bashi’s banjo player, also formerly belonging to of Montreal, about Barnes’ ability to seemingly put out a new album every week: “That’s all he does. He’s halfway done with the next one already.”

He isn’t the only one in a creative period. Savino recently moved from Harlem to the middle of the woods in Georgia with two dogs and a shotgun. He records in the yoga studio of a health retreat that’s in limbo while its owner wanders Europe. His new album will be done by the end of this summer, but all of Tall Tall Trees’ releases are worth your time if he is new to you. In the gentle fading sun on the stage in Virginia, Savino shredded, beat, and spidered his banjo. He and bassist Daniel Brunner delivered miraculously accurate additions to Bashi’s high, rapid, and tight harmonies.

The band left the stage for the crowd-favorite “Manchester” off of 2012’s 151a. Similar to the way Miles Davis’s tone stayed the same throughout his career even as he rapidly shifted the contours around it, Bashi’s voice remains a calm and perfect thing no matter what he surrounds it with. At least, so far. This current iteration of the Kishi Bashi Band is by far the best. After a gloriously psychedelic romp through both parts of “Hahaha” off of Lighght Bashi apologized because they hadn’t played the tunes in six months, but the slight lack of preparation gave birth to colors and spectrums from the violin and banjo that suggested massive unexplored realms for the quartet.

As the set ended and the crowd flowed down to the stage at the other end of the runway and the parachutists practiced their trade and the sounds faded from local groups Wyteshayds and Major and the Monbacks and everyone had a sample of peanuts, it was clear the first year of the LAVA Music Festival was a success. The founder, who graduated from the same high school as Bashi, Josh Coplon, says “The day as a whole was a highlight. It was really cool to see everything I’d been first dreaming about unfold over 12 hours. We are already starting to plan next year and hope to be two days with camping.” There is certainly plenty of space for that, and if they book acts like Kishi Bashi and Fitz and the Tantrums and Robert DeLong (who blew me away), they are surely headed for success for many years to come.

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