Saturday night, the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State L.A. welcomed the Kishi Bashi String Quartet as well as Elizabeth and the Catapult to its famed stage. These classically-infused singer-songwriters perform their eclectic kaleidoscopic music to an enthused audience in the intimate theater.
Elizabeth & the Catapult consists of singer Elizabeth Ziman and her accompanying percussionist Myles for a live performance. Her alternative classic music carries a sweet poppy melody with biting lyrics to round out the sound. Emotional vocal howls and smooth growls are her strong point. Ziman’s energy warms the room as she sarcastically remarks between songs. She sassily tells anecdotes about meeting Myles when he was a mere teenager and watching his progression to the present. Additionally, she stops herself from playing the intro to a song as she laughs about how fans have been comparing her appearance to the likeness of the “hot one” from the show Broad City. She playfully enters a stream of storytelling bridging her well-rounded selection of songs, and therein laying her life experiences and secrets bare. Her music triumphs notably move to a higher level in her recent album Like It Never Happened. One of the night’s most memorable moments is her lively rendition of her ironic single, “Happy Pop,” which she derisively dedicates to her ex-label. The lyrics playfully attack the idea that her former record label encouraged her to write something happy and catchy, to which she finds a way to exert optimism in spite of her opposing forces. Other favored parts of the set are when she dedicates “Taller Children” to Michael Cera and then covers Dawes’ “When My Time Comes” with a little sing-a-long help from the light audience. She is not to be missed as she returns to the stage multiple times throughout Kishi Bashi’s set as a backup vocalist for the band.
The highly anticipated headliner Kishi Bashi and his string quartet engulf the room with an alarmingly powerful set. The group’s chemistry is palpable as they take the audience on a whimsical journey through Ishibashi’s imagination. One song at a time, they touch on existential philosophies, silly personal memories – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is a hodgepodge of emotions and quirky combinations of violins, cello, banjo, improvised percussion, synth loops, and Ishibashi’s high voice, but the outcome is purely magical live. Peppering in covers of the Talking Heads and Beirut show his level of creativity, appreciation for a vast range of musical stylings, and his ability to find inspiration from any musical source. Consequently, his classical foundation of music takes turns in every possible direction. He moves into folk, pop, edgy alternative, melodramatic ballads, and even electronic dance. Ishibashi explains that they will be playing on the Late Show with David Letterman soon. Then, he encourages everyone to watch out for it because they will be performing “Philosphize in It! Chemicalize with It!” on the show. Being such a perfectionist, he stops himself when he makes a mistake in the song and alerts the crowd that he hopes that does not happen on live television. Everyone applauds his recovery. They cannot get enough of him. He charms onlookers with his adorable smile and peaceable demeanor. Donning a boutonniere on his lapel gives the impression that he takes himself more seriously than one might assume; but he still finds a way to lighten his approach by forcing the entire audience to stand for the last of his set, especially “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” because it is the only danceable song. He absolutely delivers what the people have been waiting to hear and see. For the encore, he and the rest of the band return to the stage with Elizabeth Zamit for an unplugged version of “Bright Whites.” To connect more with the crowd, he tells everyone to get out of their seats and come as close as possible to the stage. This is something that only translates well with a small band. Not to worry, he has big plans in store for his future musical endeavors. Ishibashi asserts that it is his dream to play with an accompanying symphony some day. With his level of talent and creativity, a growing fan base and an already assembled small band of strings, there is no doubt that that he will eventually reach his goal.
Kishi Bashi setlist:
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) – Talking Heads cover
Bittersweet Genesis for Him AND Her
I Am the Antichrist to You
Atticus, in the Desert
A Sunday Smile – Beirut cover
Conversations at the End of the World
Carry on Phenomenon
Philosphize in It! Chemicalize with It!
The Ballad of Mr. Steak
Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived
It All Began with a Burst
Bright Whites (unplugged, improv intro)