Kaki King took the stage at SPACE Gallery wearing all white from head to toe, sporting mad-scientist goggles, and with her platinum blonde hair spiked dramatically to the side. She resembled nothing less than an outrageous character in an anime film, or even a comic-book superhero – and then she went on to play like one.
In the context of this performance, which was framed halfway between a concert and performance-art piece, Kaki King (born Katherine King) presented herself not as the superhero but the sidekick. The real star of the show, the Batman to her Robin, was already on stage. It too was decked out in white, save for some black dots spread apart like the eyes of a spider. It stood propped on two stands that kept it fixed at a perfectly calibrated height. This was her guitar, and the concert was to be its showcase.
Beth Wexler curated, programmed and manipulated all of the visuals for the show, including a collaborative piece with visual artist Shantell Martin for the song “Anthropomorph.” King performed her instrumental compositions with an ever-evolving landscape of colors, shapes, designs, and canned footage projected in high definition on her guitar and the screen behind her. King’s white getup was stylish, but it was also functional – it allowed her to recede into the background of the performance and for the music and art to take the spotlight.
The resulting show was part cinematic experience, part laser-light show, part multimedia art exhibition, and part musical performance. There were moments when the it gave the feeling of staring into a lava lamp while listening to the sustained jams of Pink Floyd, and then King’s hyper plucking and Martin’s evocative linework would take us into a Tron-like future. There was even a bit of humor mixed in, as the guitar “told the story of its life” through cleverly shot footage of its adventures around Brooklyn, staged to a bouncy beat reminiscent of Eminem’s 1999 hit, “Guilty Conscience.”
In terms of the actual performance, King used the entire neck of the guitar and the fluid fingerwork of a flamenco player to create intricate melodic passages that were contemplative, psychedelic, and occasionally funky, while scratching and thumping the course surface of the guitar’s body to create rhythms that accompanied her picking. It was difficult to tell how much of the resulting music was generated on the spot and how much relied on pre-recorded samples or was built up from loops, but that’s a reflection of her incredible proficiency. Likewise, even with a passing familiarity of The Neck is a Bridge to the Body – the album from which this material was drawn – it was impossible to tell how much of the music was composition and how much was improvisation.
The performance was sold out, and they probably could have sold more tickets if they’d done away with the seating arrangement – although removing the seats would have encouraged a more-social atmosphere and resulted in a less-attentive audience. As it is, it’s unlikely anyone left the venue and promptly forgot about the show. In a time when even pop acts struggle to make a living, that someone who plays such difficult-to-classify music could find creative means to earn income – by offering a brilliant and wholly unique experience, coupled with a thoughtful selection of merchandise – is inspiring.
WHAT: Kaki King
WHERE: SPACE Gallery
REVIEWED: Feb. 28