Before the show begins, the prop of a guitar held stationary mid-air by two adapted microphone stands is alone on the stage. When the lights dim to signal the commencement of the show, Kaki King appears from backstage dressed in white and wearing white rimmed sunglasses and walking over to the guitar and reaches around it, at once hugging, caressing, and finger picking the instrument. She is entwined, becoming one with the instrument as it possesses her and she inhabits it for the next hour or so.
After the shimmering shoegaze style of the first song, In the Beginning, what at first seems like repeated miss-strums and then scratching at the guitar and on the strings evolves into the almost purely percussive piece, Thought are Born. The next song, Notes and Colours, is a minimal cousin to John Williams’ Cavatina (theme to The Deerhunter). These three songs are examples of the range displayed throughout the performance but even though there are contrasts between one song and the next, they all work as a whole, each piece following on from the other.
Kaki’s own idiosyncratic finger picking and percussive technique has developed after years of drumming in bands before she focused mainly on guitar (she later tell us in conversation that her wish is to be an anonymous drummer in the background of a band set up, and sitting in the dark amongst the dynamic visuals projected on the guitar and above her, she seems to be moving towards achieving this goal).
Projected from the stage in front of her onto the white guitar are streams of dynamic imagery and film, the show being the result of Kaki wanting to do something with light to mirror the intricacies of her performance. She later explains that there was a period of fine tuning in order to adjust the projection mapping onto the guitar to get it to the point we are seeing it as an audience.
When Kaki does intermittently break briefly and allows for applause, she looks around randomly from behind her thick white rimmed sunglasses and cocks her head as though she can almost hear something. It is like she is not only alone on stage but alone in the auditorium.
In an abstract way, the show is autobiographical and about her relationship with her chosen instrument, the most unambiguous portion being the odd song out Roaming Guitar during which a short subtitled film is shown with Kaki substituted in the narrative by her awkward, suffering guitar (which she actually credits for (co)writing the show). Although amusing, this tangential sequence does tend to detract and take away from the abstract nature of the rest of the work. This, like Carmine St. from her debut album Everybody Loves You, is one a few adjuncts to the soundtrack album that is performed during the show.
She does not actually break the fourth wall and acknowledge the audience until the end of the show in a sales pitch for the guitar shaped USBs in the foyer followed by a proxy encore during which she demonstrates her Passerelle Bridge developed to transform any guitar into a koto with the added stage prop of a plant called Robert (It took a moment for some in the audience to understand the joke).
In the post show conversation, amongst the discussion of the four year development of the show to where it is now and the equipment used, she reveals that there is a practicality to the sunglasses in that light burst are prevented. She elaborates that the guitar is the character in charge, often taking the lead and she is just following along, stating that she didn’t invent the six string guitar but it invented her. When the guitar demands her to do something, she has to do it. Her passion for the guitar leads her to literally stand on a soapbox (a couch chair) to advocate the importance of having a good instrument to foster and encourage beginner players to continue and persevere. During the conversation when she is asked about her musical tastes, listening patterns and inspiration it is interesting but not surprising that she says she started out wanting to be Stevie Nicks but ended up being Lindsay Buckingham.
Live Review by Jason Leigh