Concert Review: Kishi Bashi

I kicked off my first day of senior year right with Kishi Bashi’s stellar performance at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale, PA this past August. I’ve seen Mr. Ishibashi twice before: the first time as a touring violinist for of Montreal at Terminal 5 in NY and at Carnegie Mellon, during the spring semester of my sophomore year in February 2013. Kishi Bashi was supported by HEIDEMANN, an independent act led by namesake Monika Heidemann, and Bombadil, a charming four-man band from North Carolina. I had been eagerly awaiting this concert after the release of Kishi Bashi’s second full-length album Lighght, pronounced “light,” earlier this year in May.

HEIDEMANN opened the night with her eccentric tunes that sounded like they were imported from outer space. I’ll admit she wasn’t the kind of artist I was expecting to open for Kishi Bashi and the only parallel I could draw between the two was their shared use of musical looping. Although she is currently based out of Brooklyn, NY she definitely had more of a Seattle or Portland hipster vibe. Her slow tempo, live-recorded music was reminiscent of when I saw Dadelus open for Yeasayer at the same venue in August 2012. HEIDMANN’s lack of experience showed during her performance, “[she was] a bit awkward,” as one concertgoer put it. Although HEIDEMANN’s musical tastes don’t line up with mine, she clearly has a distinct style that will enable her to stand out from other artists.

The end of HEIDMANN’s set marked the beginning of another, as three dapper men took the stage. Something was amiss though, for the fourth member of Bombadil was nowhere to be found. In my eyes, it didn’t make a difference since the remaining three gentlemen did not fail to impress me. Bombadil’s stage presence was largely reminiscent of the time I saw Punch Brothers at the Rex Theater where all five of the band’s members were clad in elegant menswear and had no trouble interacting with the audience. The band’s folk-pop sound was similar to the likes of Fleet Foxes or the Decemberists with the peppiness of Good Old War sprinkled in. I adored Bombadil’s soothing harmonies and calming tunes, both of which were refreshing to my ears, a pure delight.

The drastic juxtaposition between HEIDMANN and Bombadil’s musical styles kind of took me by surprise, however I thought they were suitable openers for Kishi Bashi. Ishibashi was classically trained in violin while growing up and when he stopped by CMU in winter 2013, I had the chance to speak with him for a brief moment. Kishi Bashi mentioned that he drew his influences from chamber music, jazz improvisation, and what he referred to as “adolescent music,” produced by artists such as Nirvana. Today, he seamlessly blends traditional and electronic elements together to form his own genre of music.

Kishi Bashi’s mastery of the violin was made apparent right from the start, as the audience was welcomed with one of his signature string introductions, which segued into “Philosophize In It Chemicalize With It!” from Lighght. Despite the release of Lighght a few months earlier, I found that the show’s repertoire was well-balanced. It featured songs from Lighght, his debut album 151a from 2012, and his EP Room for Dream. Going in to the concert, I was mostly interested to see him perform new material, the bonus track “Brandenberg Stomp” in particular, however, in retrospect, I was not disappointed with the selection.

The best thing about seeing Kishi Bashi in person is seeing him construct songs from the ground up. Watching him record and mix the simple phrase, “Ha ha ha” for “Hahaha Pt.1” was extremely satisfying and mesmerizing. He also caught the audience off guard with a seemingly impromptu cover of “Live and Let Die,” originally performed by Paul McCartney and Wings. What I love about Mr. Ishibashi is his ability to turn plain, ordinary speech into not just music, but an experience. Kishi Bashi’s concerts are not just about listening and watching him on stage, it’s about experiencing how his music is made. Till then, I’ll be waiting for his return to the Steel City.

Kishi Bashi will be on tour through November 1, 2014, for more information visit Kishi Bashi’s Facebook page!

I’d like to thank Tito Belis for all of his help!

Concert Review: Neon Trees

Neon Trees came to town about three weeks ago, the third stop of their headlining Pop Psychology tour, which kicked off at the beginning of May. They were supported by upcoming artists Nightmare and the Cat and Smallpools. Pop Psychology is Neon Trees’ third full-length studio album that was released in late April.

The last time I saw Neon Trees was back in January 2011, my senior year of high school, at Webster Hall in Manhattan’s East Village. At the time the Utah-based pop band had released only one full-length album, Habits. “Animal” and “1983”, two tracks off Habits, are arguably Neon Trees’ most popular tracks of their early repertoire. Despite their limited assortment of material, they put on a truly electric show and front man Tyler Glenn’s personality still sticks out in my mind years later. I will admit that I stopped listening to Neon Trees regularly once I hit college in fall 2011. They kind of fell off my radar as I started listening to other artists and I knew that they were coming out with new material, but I was interested in different genres of music at the time.

Fast forward to spring 2014, when I found out that Neon Trees was coming to Pittsburgh. For a while I was debating whether or not I wanted to go since I hadn’t listened to them in such a long time. It’s as if I didn’t deserve to go because I was completely unfamiliar with everything that came out after Habits. I then recalled how much fun I had at their concert from 2011 and I made the decision to attend. The next step was to listen to their more recent tunes, a task that ended up being way more fun than I had anticipated. In a span of three years, Neon Trees had released two more albums: Picture Show in 2011 after I had seen them and Pop Psychology less than a month earlier. I quickly warmed up to Picture Show with its catchy 80s-influenced songs and a fantastic cover of The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.” When Picture Show came out in 2011, “Everybody Talks” quickly climbed the charts and remains one of Neon Trees’ most renowned songs. Pop Psychology took a little longer to get used to, for it was so drastically different than their stuff from Habits. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Pop Psychology. It’s a cohesive album that shows a lot of potential to grow in popularity over time.

The concert was at Stage AE, located along Pittsburgh’s north shore. Nightmare and the Cat took the stage first and I thought they were…okay. I have seen a lot of concerts, and my opinion is probably more objective than most. Needless to say, they weren’t downright horrible; I just think they need to grow as musicians a little bit more. Smallpools was up next and certainly did not disappoint. I had seen Smallpools once before when they opened for Twenty One Pilots this past November in Philadelphia. Although they have only released one EP, it was apparent that they have already garnered a pretty solid fan base. I am eager to see what Smallpools will produce in the coming years.

In between Smallpools’ and Neon Trees’ act, a large white sheet was draped across the front of the stage, obscuring everything behind it. It then occurred to me just how Neon Trees has grown in a short span of three years. When I saw them at Webster Hall in Manhattan, they had a minimal stage setup with a simple backdrop that read “Neon Trees.” Now, their stage consisted of a multi-level set fitted with large LED screens, stairs, and illuminated by countless lights. Neon Trees finally came on and started to play the song, “Lessons in Love (All Day, All Night),” from Picture Show from behind the sheet. I could sense the anticipation building up within the crowd until the sheet finally fell in the midst of the first chorus. At the sight of Tyler Glenn, who stood fearlessly in his brilliant yellow suit at the center of the stage, the crowd instantly burst into cheers.

Neon Trees’ set list for the evening mainly featured songs from Pop Psychology as well as a number of tracks from their previous two albums. They played a slowed down variation of “1983” and I was ecstatic when they started to play their cover of “Don’t You Want Me.” One song I was particularly impressed by was the live version of “Unavoidable” off of Pop Psychology, a song I felt indifferent about prior to the concert. Tyler Glenn and drummer, Elaine Bradley’s, duet was quite charming!
There was never a dull moment throughout the entire show. The band’s engaging stage presence, frequent costume changes, dramatic lighting kept the crowd going all night. I would highly recommend seeing Neon Trees if you already haven’t. The next time they’re in town; I will not hesitate to decide whether or not to attend, I’ve already made my choice.

Big thanks to Shannon Cosgrove and Lindsay Field of BB Gun Press for making this possible!
Neon Trees' Lead Singer, Tyler Glenn

Interview: Wes Miles of Ra Ra Riot

I recently spoke with Wes Miles, the lead singer of Ra Ra Riot in the hours leading up their show at the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia, PA on October 10, 2013. Ra Ra Riot is one of my favorite bands and this was my fourth time seeing them live. The band released their third studio album, Beta Love, back in February. Beta Love marks a shift in Ra Ra Riot’s style from baroque pop to more electronic-influenced mixes, due to the the departure of cellist Alexandra Lawn back in early 2012.

Jess Phoa (WRCT): Now that Beta Love’s been out for a while, do you think you could give me some insight on its reception? From its fans and like just reflect on it.

Wes Miles (Ra Ra Riot): Um…not really. It’s kinda hard to know cause we’re still sort of ending, but in the cycle cause this is the last tour for Beta Love, so it’s kinda hard to know. Um, I think it’s been well received. It seems that there are fans that come to shows that are into more adult stuff then there’s also some fans that are more into new stuff and, ah, but like last night we played at Terminal 5 in New York and that was really fun and one of the best crowd reactions was at the beginning of the the title song, “Beta Love”. That felt really good and that’s been the case more often than not that “Beta Love” is um, successful song live.

JP: It’s probably because you introduced it first and kind of like… and you gradually worked it in to the crowd I would say too. Uh, if I remember correctly, you recently toured in Japan?

WM: Yeah, we were there in January or February.

JP: Okay, so it was a bit while back, but I might be studying abroad there this summer.

WM: Oh yeah? Cool.

JP: I was wondering if you could give me any recommendations on like, what to do…aside from studying of course.

WM: Well, where are you going to be?

JP: Probably Tokyo.

WM: Okay. I actually studied abroad in Osaka.

JP: Okay! Oh they’re totally different.

WM: Very different. Yeah, I loved it There’s so many things to do. My…one of my go-to things is to go to the Meiji Shrine, Meiji Jingu and um, that’s near…Harajuku.

JP: Yeah.

WM: Which is like fun to go to walk around and shop.

JP: Just people watching, really.

WM: The best ramen, possibly in the world, is right there; called Jangara Ramen. It’s right at the intersection of um…I guess the Meiji Jingu Mai train stop and the other main road, but…Jangara…it’s really, it awesome. And actually the last time we were there, the morning we were leaving, I like had to go cause we hadn’t been there yet.

JP: The ramen place?

WM: Yeah and one of the waiters came to a few of us, ah, a few of us were eating in there and, like, recognized us from the radio or something and gave us little ramen keychains, which I still have with me.

JP: Are they on your keys?

WM: No I’m too afraid of losing it. It’s in my bag.

JP: It’s just a nice memento.

WM: Yeah, I like to see it in my backpack all the time.

JP: So I watched your “Binary Mind” video, actually earlier today I saw it yesterday, but my Internet was kind of being wonky, so I couldn’t see it. But I saw that it was really colorful.

WM: Yeah!

JP: And I couldn’t help but think of Yo Gabba Gabba while I was watching it and I was wondering if you had ever aspired to maybe perform on the show.

WM: Well, we have played with the Yo Gabba Gabba Live! show, which was really fun.

JP: I think Mathieu told me that when I interviewed him last fall.

WM: Mhmm.

JP: But if you were to perform on the actual show, what would you sing about?

WM: I don’t know. Um…

JP: Cause there’s some really random things on there.

WM: I haven’t seen the show too many times, um but I remember when we were talking about doing the live show, I saw them once and it was pretty crazy…but great.

JP: Yeah, of Montreal did a song about foods you should eat when you’re sick it was like bananas, applesauce, rice, and toast.

WM: Oh, haha

JP: My friend actually suggested this question, he wanted to know what Ra Ra Riot iss rioting about.

[Wes misheard me and thought I said “writing”, not “rioting”]

WM: Is writing about? Like, right now?

JP: Yeah, or just maybe when the band was created. You could give me a then and now, if you want to.

WM: What do you mean, like our songs? What our songs are about…?

JP: No, just your name. Like, “riot”.

WM: OH. What’s the “riot” about?

JP: Yeah!

WM: I thought you said “writing”. Um, I donw know. The show, I guess, really. We started by playing house parties and like in attics, basements at Syracuse and it always felt a little bit of a riot, you know crazy, off the hinges type shows.

JP: How did you convince Milo to quit making buildings and make music instead?

WM: Well, he didn’t need to start making music because we were already doing that, but his place of employment was very cool about him leaving and–

JP: Oh wow, how long had he been working there?

WM: Not even a year.

JP: Okay.

WM: Maybe about a year, just under a year. But he’s a smart guy, he can always go back to that.

JP: That’s awesome.

WM: Music’s kind of…if you don’t start it early, it’s more and more difficult to get into it.

JP: It sounds like learning a language. Well, people argue that music is a language.
You’ve got 99 problems like Jay-Z, could you tell me what your 65th problem would be?

WM: Sixty-fifth problem? Um…

JP: It could be…anything!

WM: I guess it would be that our ping pong table is broken.

JP: Aw, I’m so sorry. Is it still broken?

WM: Yeah, it is.

JP: Ow, oh man.

WM: It’s been broken for like two weeks, three weeks now. And that was like a major part of my cardio regimen for the springtime.

JP: If you could take a ride in a time machine and travel back to any era of your choosing, which one would it be?

WM: Any era? I dunno.

JP: Like a Renaissance man?

I think about this a lot actually because…I’d be a little afraid to go back in time too far because.

JP: Like dinosaurs?

Haha, not that far but um, food used to be really dirty. Like people used to be sick ALL THE TIME.

JP: They drink beer because water [was dirty].

WM: Yeah and medicine sucked! Yeah and nobody knew how to fix anything. So if I was to go back, yeah, I dunno. I would probably go back not that far.

JP: Well putting those negative things aside and just focusing on the positives of an era, maybe you could narrow it down a bit more.

WM: Yeah, there’s always wars…you know, and inquisitions…

JP: You’re just like, “reality, man…”

WM: The world is f***ed up, it’s slightly less violent now than it has been historically, unless you go way way back. I think it’d be cool to be like a nomadic person.

JP: In what [geographical area]?

JP: That sounds really neat.

WM: Like the Native Americans…a cool era.

JP: What’s your favorite song to perform off of Beta Love?

WM: Probably “Beta Love”…yeah.

JP: Okay. Fair enough…and did you know that Beta Love made it to WRCT’s most played albums of the week back in February when it was in rotation?

WM: I…don’t think I did, but maybe I did then.

JP: No no, don’t worry about it, haha. Just know it was well played at the station!

WM: Thank you!

JP: In a parallel universe, you are not a musician, instead you are an Olympic athlete, which country would you represent and what sport would you compete in?

WM: Ah well, I mean, I guess I would be…

JP: Ping pong.


WM: That’d be cool. I would, you know, I’d represent U.S.A. if it existed in this parallel universe. I don’t know…yeah ping pong would be cool, tennis would be cool. I’m definitely partial to skiing maybe like the biathlon, like skiing shooting biathlon.

JP: Like in James Bond.

WM: Yeah, exactly. That’d be a cool one.

JP: Synchronized swimming.


WM: Many cool sports to choose from I’d probably chose before synchronized swimming.

JP: I don’t think you’d pass the gender category.

WM: Are there no male synchronized swimmers?

JP: No. It’s all females. It’s a completely gendered sport.

WM: Wow…

JP: If you could dance with any star, who would it be?

WM: This may be a copout, but prolly Kate Bush. Although, she’s kind of an actual, like, dancer. Like a modern dancer, not like a ballroom dancer.

JP: Oh, is it more interpretive dance? I’m not familiar with her.

WM: She’s a great musician. She was a big influence on us, particularly in the beginning. You see some of her old videos from the 80s and she’s like just doing these crazy dances.

JP: Beyond her time?

WM: Yeah.

JP: Do you have a comfort food or is there something you really like to eat when you feel sad?

WM: When I feel sad?!

JP: Or if it’s really rainy like today? Just like, “I really want this…”

WM: Ramen.

JP: Ramen? From that place in Japan or just in general?

WM: In general. Yeah, I had it yesterday too because it was a little rainy in New York and it was great.

JP: Do you have a favorite brand of ramen? This will appeal to all the college students.

WM: No, like real ramen, at a ramen bar.

JP: Oh, where did you go in New York? Ippudo?

WM: No, Totto Ramen. It’s like…

JP: Oh! Is it on St. Marks?

WM: No it’s on 52nd…

JP: Ah cause you were already at Terminal 5, so you were already there.

WM: Yeah, it was just a ten-minute walk from there.

JP: How was it?

WM: It’s really good.

JP: Cause I’m originally from New York.

WM: Ah, it’s quite good.

JP: Since you were in Pittsburgh earlier this week and I go to school there and I’m kind of biased and you’re in Phildelphia now, which city do you prefer and why do you prefer one over the other?

WM: I am going to preface this with a little caveat because I really do love both cities. I love Pittsburgh, I think it’s a unique city.

JP: Mhmm.

WM: And I love Pennsylvania because my mother is from Pennsylvania, grew up in Philly. My grandmother also grew up in Philly, so I kind of have to have a Philly thing. My aunt lives near Philly.

JP: Yeah.

WM: I have an autographed birthday card from quarterback Ron Javorski, when I was like eight or something.

JP: Okay. That’s understandable.

WM: So Philly is my fave.

JP: Philly’s in your heart.

WM: I do like Pittsburgh though. I like those kind of weird rustbelt cities.

Special thanks to Christine Stanley of Distiller Promo for all of her help!

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