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. www.KakiKing.com.

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

Photo Credit: Roman Sobus www.romansobus.net
Article by: Hannah Frank axis.contact@gmail.com