music is just organized sound - Kaki King @ The Crocodile, 10/15/2012

OK, this is not metal, but if you're a guitar nerd, maybe this appeals to you?

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This was my 4th time seeing King live. In the past couple years, she's brought other band members with her, but this was a return to her solo-guitar roots. 100% Kaki. Her concerts are punctuated with tons of between-song chatter; this time, she joked about trying to keep her thoughts to herself in front of non-English-speaking audiences. She talked about how being awesome at guitar excused her from being useless at everything else in life. And she talked about her fancy-shmancy custom-built 7-string guitar with the fanned fretboard. Kaki King is a guitar nerd; Kaki King's audience is guitar nerds.

But her real focus of the night was her recent marriage(! as of 8 days ago!) to her partner Jessica, not the Jessica from the song "Jessica", but A Jessica. She seemed truly calm, more at peace with the world than usual. She spoke about Prop 74, and how having marriage as a viable option (in New York) shaped the way she approached the relationship from the beginning. She talked about getting an ultra-thin wedding ring that wouldn't interfere with her guitar-playing.

She seemed more subdued than in previous shows. For comparison, two years ago at the 9:30 Club, she had band members with her, and she just tons of energy, and she jumped in to the audience to dance near the end of her set. This show was mostly seated...she was mostly seated. This is not really a complaint, though. She is simply a phenomenal guitarist, so just staring at her fingers all night seemed to be the best way to enjoy the show.

Her older material, especially from the first two albums, sounded like she had something to prove. When you start out playing on the NYC subway for pocket change, you have to fight tooth-and-nail for any attention. But with, what, six albums behind her?, she no longer has to "prove" her mad skillz. Songs like "Playing with Pink Noise" are aggressively skillful...a million notes a minute, sounds like two or three people playing at once. The end of "Magazine" races forward, going faster and faster until you can't tell what's going on. As a guitar player, it's embarrassing to even touch a guitar after watching her fingers flying all over the fretboard.

But her newer material from "Glow" reflects how she's grown up since then. These songs are gorgeous, perhaps more so - partly because they're slower and less showy. Yet they still require all the precision she's built up over the years. For example, "Cargo Cult" sounds simple on record, but in seeing it live, you understand what's going on behind the music. You realize she's strumming along the bass rhythm PLUS jamming out crazy chords PLUS palm-drumming on her guitar the whole time. "Bowen Island" was another highlight for me - a track that I would've easily passed over. But she plays a weird modded guitar for this one, and she doesn't use the frets at all while playing it. Now when I hear the song, I'll automatically recall how to build the guitar she used for the song. (Fake bridge on the 16th fret; never forget.)

Seeing as Kaki King is my biggest musical crush ever, it's weird to see her turning OLD AND MARRIED AND BORING from her punk-rock, pixie origins. She's "settling down", if you will, which is the least rock'n'roll thing I have ever typed. But it's great to see her livin' the dream - she's a professional solo guitarist, who's true to her musical aspirations, and happens to crank out amazing tunes with unrivalled skill. I was pretty close to skipping over this show because I forgot how fascinating it is to watch a master at work.

  1. I'm guessing some people don't enjoy King's ranting; I mean, she does talk a whole lot between songs, sometimes for a few minutes! But because of her chatter, I always leave King's shows feeling like I know her better as a person, which is pretty unique considering how many artists I see who stick to rock-star posturing, or "my music speaks for itself" obfuscation.


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