Kaki King @ the Studio, Opera House

Where exactly do you begin in a discussion about a Velma-esque figure, seated cross-legged on a stool with a lap steel guitar in hand, surrounded by two other guitars – one acoustic, one electric – an assortment of pedals fed through a 65W fender amp and a glass of red? More appropriately labeled as a cross between a geeky Hilary Swank and Eddie Van Halen, Kaki King is a humble, simple-looking character, yet one so difficult to analyse.

There has been a number of guitarists I have witnessed thus far, ranging from Tommy Emmanuel to Rodrigo y Gabriela, all of whom are all astonishing in their own right but Kaki King is something else. She will fry your brain like watching re-runs of Led Zeppelin’s set at Royal Albert Hall, while simultaneously melting your heart. Don’t bother trying to dissect her songs down to the tuning details, or musical key, because King would have puzzled you from the second she picks the notes for the loops that form the foundation for her song – examining her and her songs is a near impossible feat.

The atmosphere at the Studio was immaculately still – you could hear a pin drop, or in our case a submarine’s radar. King manages to continue with her set despite a subtle, sound disturbance most likely a fire door alarm, abruptly stopping King to determine the sound source. The other notable technical issue was the heavy bass folding back. Her pitch-perfect hearing amazes me by quickly addressing such discrepancies. Her execution and delivery of her arrangements like “Playing with Pink Noise” or “Solipsist”, is faultless. King innovates the use of the guitar as a whole instrument, together with the endless combinations of tapping, harmonics, muffling, muting, scrapes etc. etc. Intense concentration is evident on King’s face, as she immerses herself into her own world, distancing herself from the audience but in no way is this is a negative aspect of King’s set, if anything you witness what is magic captured in 6 strings and a hunk of a wood.

Her approach is unconventional but it yields the most unique sounds, and when looped and backed by Dan Brantigan on the flugelhorn, it is incredible. On occasion, King swings the microphone for some vocal work. Still raw and under-developed, her vocals add a human dimension, emotionally and technically. Between songs, King’s banter also proves to succeed in delighting the seated crowd, ranging from observations about the Australian accent, to French people and wine, nostalgic commentary of High school cliques, to Sean Connery. With even a reference to Menomena and Frank Gehry, I swooned even over her banter.

A good friend of mine told me she wished she knew about Kaki in high school, so she can make all those boys boasting about what solo to shred next, cry. Frankly, I wished I did too. Hendrix, [Jimmy] Page, B.B. [King], Malmsteen, Clapton, Chet [Atkins] and Django [Reinhardt], please make room for this lady – she is genius.

Forgive me about the length of this review. A show like this cannot be condensed in 200 words – it was that amazing. It was also one of few shows with some firsts, e.g. valet parking and a show running on time. And it was also one that wasn’t kind to late-comers. For once being punctual (and a high school band geek) was cool.

Kaki King has a new record out early 2008 titled, Dreaming of Revenge, and also has a lot more shows planned in the not too distant future … more like in a fortnight’s time.

And for the record, I took this friend to the show last night because it was her birthday present from me.

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