Guitarist Kaki King Merges Music and Visual Art with “The Neck is Bridge to the Body”

“Veni, Vidi, Vici” is Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered” and Kaki King’s multimedia show conquers perceptions. Combining sound and projected images, the intricacy of King’s guitar work is visually manifested in projection which bathes the stage during the show.

“The Neck is a Bridge to the Body” is an onslaught on the senses, yet with a refined artistry which is rare for solo acoustic guitar. The title, which is also the name of her recent album, refers to two parts of the guitar which are also on human anatomy—making it a statement about the guitar as an extension of the self.

Bright colors, projection of intertwining collage of abstract and recognizable images, sounds ranging from layers of feedback to dissonant symphonic chord structures, to electronically affected finger-style guitar sounds are all happening at once. The result is the most cohesive, engaging show you can expect from a modern guitarist.

To be understand the project, check out the introduction video: click here.

I first came across Kaki King as she started making waves in the mid 2000’s. She was a scrappy brown haired girl with a smirking, focused expression that made perfect sense considering the exactness and alacrity with which she attacked acoustic guitar.

It was obvious then that she was in her own genre. Of course there is a tradition of stand-out guitarists, for example Sharon Isbin in the Classical world and Emily Remler in the jazz realm, yet Kaki’s playing was delivered like a woman possessed and full of attitude. It was highly original and placing it was like Goldie Locks trying to choose among choices that didn’t match: not alternative instrumental folk yet not progressive rock, yet not easy listening, yet not adult contemporary. What was it? (Besides being really good?)

Perhaps Kaki has asked herself the same question she continues to relentlessly evolve as an artist. I could not have been more impressed by her show at Lincoln Hall, yet I miss the scrappiness of her earlier work; I miss rooting for her like she’s the underdog. But we can celebrate: with this show she is one of the most impressive guitarists on the planet.

No longer just “that kid that can play guitar really cool”, she’s evolved into a full blown artistic explosion capable of utilizing not only her own skills and talent (which are immense), but that of an entire team to combine technologies and create a revolutionary production.

There was no microphone on stage. Instead, a single lone white guitar stood on stage, held up by a brace to keep it in one position. It was clear this was a show for a guitarist, not a singer-songwriter.

Why a white guitar? There is a reason. Kaki King arrived on stage dressed all in white, with white-rimmed sunglasses. The projection screen was down, implying there would be some visuals. As the show started it was clear the sunglasses weren’t just to look cool, they were there to protect her eyes. Dressed in white, with a white guitar, Kaki became part of the blank canvas on which the visual portion of her performance was to appear.

I almost feel like I am being a spoiler if you have been following Kaki King and was not aware of her latest incarnation. If you’ve not heard of her yet– this is a perfect time to experience her music as it matures into an extraordinary artistic and technical feat on every level.

Kaki King is no longer just about guitar, but about music, video and multi media. As an Artist she took a back seat to being the center of attention, letting the projected images and music become an engulfing experience. While the music and presentation center around the guitar, the show definitely keeps her as a fragment in a grander work of art unfolding.

It’s one thing to be a technically proficient guitarist or instrumentalist. The Achilles’ heel of that trait is often an over reliance on technique in itself. While King, throughout her career, has maintained a unique and original personality with her approach, it is now unequivocally infused with artistic purpose.

During the show, photos of urban scenes and abstract shapes drifted in and out of view across the face of the guitar. All the while, abstract forms and geometric designs flowed on the screen in the background. Drawings flowed into one another, with visual styles similar to Egyptian Art, Chagall, Matisse, hand-drawn doodles and the Op Art of the 1960’s, which give illusions to the eye. On her guitar, constantly changing tiles and fireworks lit up the body and fret board. I imagined how hard it must be, for a moment, for her to dance her fingers up and down the fretboard while the surface of it was visually changing. Impressive!

The artistic efforts of the projection and video team from Glowing Pictures are world class—my favorite was during a feedback-driven song, when the colorful screen looked like remnants of electrical jitter and a printing press colliding over and over again, with new colors and designs each time.

It was a full house. I did not purchase tickets in advance, and as fate would have it, the performance was sold out when I arrived. It took me some string pulling (heh heh a pun!) to convince the doorman that I should be let in (I had a review to write, after all!). In the venue, people were drinking and hamming it up. “Does she sing?” someone asked another. “Yes…I think so…but not much,” replied the other, indicating some attending didn’t know what to expect. We knew this radical musician sets the bar ceiling high for guitarists. We didn’t know she was about to floor us.

In the end, she conquered all of us (I believe I speak for the whole audience to say we were happily conquered). She didn’t do it by using the lexicon of guitar aficionados that we might expect: long solos, aggression or look-at-me theatrics. Instead, the guitar simply became one more element in a seamless multi-media show.

Before an encore song, she took time to address the audience with a microphone stand-up comedian style. She was extremely personable and very funny too, as she introduced her project and talked about its challenges. Giving a nod to the opening band Celine Neon, she recognized the need to find an opener where that would fit well with the show. The show was otherwise all business.

A sporadic, energetic Kaki King hasn’t been replaced, she has just evolved into an Artist that is comfortable in her own skin. While many guitarists look to the past to emulate the greats that came before, King has her eyes clearly set on the future, and is showing us the way. Like the tortoise and the hare…at the finish line, she comes out of nowhere and takes the cake.

Please take the time to check out her 8 albums. This is an Artist that is breaking barriers between music and visual art.

Live Show review of Kaki King at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, on 2/11/15.

Photo Credit: Roman Sobus
Article by: Hannah Frank

Nick Moss Band song “Shade Tree” Sheds Light on Hot Subject

It didn’t take long for Nick Moss, a prolific roots musician bridging multiple genres, to put a national crisis in perspective through music.

Capturing the emotional journey of a city ravaged by race riots, the song “Shade Tree” is a touching homage to change and growth. Showing once again that music transcends issues, listeners are in for a real treat from this all-star band as they deliver with power, grace, and heart.  His song is brought to life with his band.

Touring the South with blues musicians was part of the trail blazed by award-winning guitarist Nick Moss. The Nick Moss Band blends the barriers between Rock, Soul, Blues, Funk and Jam Band genres. Specifically blues, one of the primary foundations of rock music, was the source of tapping into an understanding of the African American experience. In the late 1980’s as Nick was performing with established Blues acts, he noticed the bands kept being booked at the back of hotels. Jokingly, he asked why. A musician looked him in the eye and said “That’s just the way it is.”

In Ferguson, Mo. last Fall, the city rioted around the shooting of an unarmed African American by a police officer. When it was announced that the officer would not be charged with murder, riots took on a new ferocity. Heated debate exploded on the Internet. When Moss read specifics in the news, he responded with a raw, simple message. His song “Shade Tree” is the soundtrack to this city’s emotional journey.

“Tears were rolling down her face when she heard it,” Moss says of his wife Kate, who often is the first pair of ears to hear his latest compositions. The prolific artist is set to release his tenth album, following “Time Ain’t Free”, named one of the 50 Best Albums of 2014 by Guitar Player Magazine, on Blue Bella Records. Nick, who entertains thousands of people every year, prefers playing with his back turned to this one-person audience so to present a new song objectively. He wrote the song in about a half hour. When he hit the last chord, there was silence. Thinking he wrote a clunker, he turned around only to find her crying. Overcome by the meaning, words and music she said, “I love this song.”

Nick’s singer Michael Ledbetter, whose range from R&B to opera expands the prowess of Nick Moss Band, agreed it was a special song. It also seems appropriate the song is sung by a descendent of Ledbelly. Nick shares that the song is a reflection not on “right or wrong”, but on being better than what’s happening to you and being better than who’s bringing you down. Focusing on the ground under our own two feet, and then working out from there is a place to start. Helping a neighbor, or getting to know the people on your street, the person sitting next to you is a place to continue.

The Ferguson news sparked an article in The Washington Post pointing out that this was the first time since the early 20th century that the St. Louis area rioted over race. In the Civil Rights era, for example in 1967, over 100 cities in the U.S. had race-related riots. St. Louis, the 10th largest city at the time, sat that one out. When the Comedian and Activist Dick Gregory was asked why this was, he replied, “Shade trees.” Nick knew from experience that this means the ability to stay cool, and not get heated.

Nick doesn’t claim to be a pacifist, yet as a bigger guy who was once State wrestling champion, he would still choose to calmly resolve a misunderstanding. The Rodney King Riots of ‘92 and even Sports-inspired riots show how people can disrespect the ground we walk on. “That is something I don’t understand, a team wins and you tear apart the town”. He was especially touched by the riots in Ferguson. How can we be so irrational to tear apart where we live? When riots happen, disorder wins. The goal instead is to resolve the conflict.

Yet, looting and flaring tempers led to rage, rioting and the mistrust between the public and the police force. “Shade Tree” lyrics include “He is my sworn defender / in the land of the free / as I walk down the street / he’s suspicious of me / this is my home being torn apart / it will never be the same / beneath the shade tree.” The song’s live video also includes Nick Fane (Bass), Patrick Seals (Drums), Taylor Streiff (Keys).

His band, set to tour Europe this summer, embodies a variety of genres and styles including Soul, Rock and R&B. “Shade Tree” offers a tribal, hypnotic riff and soulful, Gospel-like vocals.

As Nick grew up, his mother taught tolerance of people different than him. He remembered the television series Roots, and how proud people were of that. With the Civil Rights era close behind, by the 1970’s it seemed like things were better.

In the 1970’s, he and his older brother were introduced to guitars. His brother’s skills soared ahead while as for Nick’s guitar: in 2 weeks it was under the bed, in 6 months it was in shards. Moss picked up bass as a way to be in his brother’s band. As a bandleader today, bass is the first thing he hears. “The history of music is drums and a low-end noise,” says Nick, “Music is rhythm of life, energy.” Listening to soul records in his youth and an emphasis on tolerance of people’s differences could be reasons he is at home with the music as a universal language. “We all come from somewhere we are who we are,” says Nick. With the starting point of taking care of ourselves, our home and our neighbors, we can all rebuild, as a town and a nation moving forward.

“Shade Tree” offers a raw emotive power that grips the heart and soul. What would otherwise be a static online news story becomes a song of contemplation and transcendence. With the story going viral on Facebook, an exponential number of us heard of the police brutality and the city’s response. Yet few outside of the city’s 20,000 or so residents felt the personal impact—that’s where music comes in. Fronted by Michael Ledbetter’s vocals, “Shade Tree” breathes heart wrenching transcendence into a situation that touched millions. As America continues to iron out its history and move to the future, we see once again that music has the power to move us.

Nick Moss Band upcoming tour dates:  Click here.

For news on the Upcoming Release in the Spring/Summer of 2015 on Blue Bella Records, and more Nick Moss Band:  Click here.

Photo Credits: Roman Sobus
Article by: Hannah Frank