Venue: Jazz Café
Supports: Anna Calvi
Female guitar virtuoso Anna Calvi and her duo of co-conspirators (a drummer and a percussionist) utterly nailed the intimate crowd that had squeezed into Camden’s famous Jazz Café to see fellow female guitar virtuoso Kaki King do her thing. With Telecaster around her neck and in Russian tuning (she may be Russian, she spoke with an accent, I’m not really sure) Anna Calvi opened up the set with a huge reverb guitar solo. Her songs, about love and loss, capture images of sweaty nights in bars and shacks somewhere south of the Mexican border, of open roads across the desert and starry nights on Caribbean beaches, the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Her voice is powerful, her songs structured around blues chords and huge guitar solos drenched in deep south reverb and Latin flourishes. Think the rock and solid vocal delivery of PJ Harvey, the aching intimacy of Chris Isaak circa Wicked Game and yes, the guitar licks of Hendrix. High praise, but this is one unsigned act that really needs to be seen.
Kaki King; if you need to know more then look no further than here for the Dudebox review of her performance at the ULSU last year. The major difference this time round was that for much of the set she was joined on stage by drummer Matt Hankle and long term collaborator Dan Brantigan on synth, both of whom recently collaborated with her on her Mexican Teenagers EP. The entirely instrumental EP sees yet another stylistic shift for her with a much harder edge as she picks up the electric baritone guitar to explore the depths of hard rock and blues.
Kaki opened, kneeling over her pedal steel, gently plucking the delicate opening of ….Until We Felt Red. The synth whispered and the cymbals shimmered while the song built into an emotional frenzy of distorted chords before withdrawing back into itself. The opening three songs from third album Dreaming Of Revenge sounded much fuller with drums and synth, Kaki almost growling her vocals on Life Being What It Is, lost in her emotional break-up song while she plucked the guitar lines on her Ovation - but when she picked up her yellow baritone guitar it became clear the backing musicians were there to add muscle. Material from the Mexican Teenagers EP was played at near metal frenzy with power chords and crashing drums as Kaki moved into full on rock star mode, striking poses and throwing her guitar to the floor when she’d finished with it. “My mother must be so proud” she laughed, “having a rock star for a daughter!”
There were quieter moments of course; for a heartbreaking band performance of You Don’t Have To Be Afraid; and midway through the set when Matt and Dan cleared off stage for Kaki to run through some solo material including Magazine and Happy As A Dead Pig In Sunshine. And Kaki finished with a solo encore of Gay Sons of Lesbian Mothers performed on pedal steel with loops. Throughout Kaki’s guitar playing remained spellbinding, ingenious, creative and utterly defying expectations.
I’d love to review Kaki King objectively, I really would - but fact is she falls into a limited number of musicians I’m just utterly in awe of. I’m a fan, I’m right there. I’d like to say I could be objective but something in her music speaks so personally to me that it’s just impossible for me to do so. And I may not be the only one. After the guitar ferocity of Mexican Teenagers, the audience still fell utterly silent, hanging on her every word. She still didn’t need a microphone to speak to the audience and Kaki frequently looked slightly awed and surprised at her adoring audiences. At one such quiet moment, a man close to the stage cried out to her “marry me!”
Umm, no, it wasn’t me.
Kaki laughed and said “but you don’t even know me!” But Kaki’s is the kind of music that makes you feel like you do. In an interview when asked why more of her songs don’t have lyrics, Kaki replied that many of the songs express emotions she can’t put into words. This is the power of her music; she speaks poetry through her guitar, leaving you hanging on every note. Little surprise that when she stops playing it just doesn’t make sense to start talking, the audience expects to hang on every sound she makes.
After the encore she jumped off the stage and headed straight for the bar. Thinking about it now, that’s pretty logical really even if a thousand other performers would have headed for some backstage location. I patiently waited as half the room decided to say Hi. I wanted to be cool, I did my best. I told her I really dug the show, we hugged. Her music just means a lot to me, I feel like I already know her. You ask a rock star for their autograph - but you hug a friend, and that’s just the way it went down.