Venue: University of London Student Union.
Reviewer: Phil W
Katherine Elizabeth King, Kaki to her friends, is the first and only female to be inducted into the Rolling Stone Guitar Gods listings, and she’s not even out of her twenties! In fact she’s barely out of indie obscurity. Her debut album in 2003 (Everybody Loves You), assembled from demo’s recorded at friends' houses, was hurriedly put together after she was offered a record contract by a passer-by who saw her busking on the New York subway. And its not just Rolling Stone and New York indie producers who’ve noticed her talent; she’s just finished supporting the Foo Fighters on tour in Australia after Dave Grohl spotted her and immediately fell in love with her innovative picking style. She even guest starred on the last Foo’s album. And Kaki knows her audience; at one point during this very intimate gig at the ULU she said with a smile; “I know most of you are musicians. I know this because it’s normally musicians that come to my shows. I’m sorry, I don’t really have any advice for you, I was playing the New York Subway and then suddenly someone was offering me a record contract! What I can say is keep going because playing music is just awesome! The whole thing’s just awesome!” Yes, Kaki is very enthusiastic about her musical compositions and it spills out in her playing and into the audience, making her and her compositions even more compulsive!
It’s a small venue, the ULU, a capacity of only around 500, and I got there early and found a perch right up front. With no gap between the stage and the audience, I was able to spend the gig leaning on the stage, with Kaki only a few feet away from me! Kaki opened, slumped on a stool, hunched over her Ovation acoustic guitar, with Bone Chaos In the Castle, the opening track from her forthcoming album, Dreaming of Revenge (currently available on import from the US, but look out for the UK wide release in July), before ploughing into the catchy pop of Life Being What It Is.
Over more than two hours of mostly instrumental solo guitar playing, in which Kaki treats us to acoustic, electric and lap steel guitar performances, she sings on only five songs, two of which are covers. But we barely notice the absence of vocals; her guitar does the talking. Her playing is enchanting, taking melodies to ever intriguing outcomes that never tire. And when she’s not playing she’s talking enthusiastically to the audience, her face fixed in a permanent grin. She talked about the tour, about Australia and New York, about partying with the Foo Fighters, about her mum and her gran and the importance of staying hydrated, seemingly at complete ease with the enraptured audience. As she played, delicately plucking her guitar strings, the event was so intimate and the audience so quiet you could hear people’s cameras clicking.
After every song the stunned audience would clap and cheer before falling completely silent, eagerly awaiting Kaki’s next move. It really was an audience of musicians, here to see an exceptional fellow musician. So intimate was it that Kaki often didn’t need to use the microphone when addressing the audience, she could simply chat unaided, exchanging fragments of conversation and taking requests. When an audience member requested Happy As A Dead Pig In Summer from her debut album she casually asked “wow, how does that one go again? Can someone remind me of the tune? Seriously, I’ve written like 500 songs but I can only remember like 40 of them!”
Covers by Morrissey and Justin Timberlake, built up with complex guitar loops, go down well as does her debut single Playing With Pink Noise from her sophomore effort Legs To Make Us Longer, and an electric version of Yellowcake from her post-rock makeover album ….Until We Felt Red. And all the while she’s grinning to herself; she’s loving every minute of her time in the limelight. She hangs on till the very last moment in which she literally negotiates with the folk on the sound desk for just one more song before they turn the lights up. “I know which song I wanna play” she says. “Just one more, I really love this song!”
Finally, after more than two hours that feel like a quarter of the time has past, Kaki finished with the effortlessly beautiful Jessica, a lovestruck song that can’t help but leave our hearts aching and our ears longing for more. It was all over just too quick. As we left the venue there was little more to say except simply stunning.