Kaki King Live at The Corner Hotel
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Kaki King Live at The Corner Hotel

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Maybe some fans have been party to a gradual transition between the Kaki King I last saw in late ’07 and now. But for me, the juxtaposition could scarcely have been more stark. Gone was the shy, bespectacled and introverted performer I knew, and in its place was a live wire, feeding off the audience’s energy and jumping like a Masai – a consequence, one could guess, of increased confidence as a performer, a larger and more vocal audience, and switching to contact lenses, respectively.

Wow.

Maybe some fans have been party to a gradual transition between the Kaki King I last saw in late ’07 and now. But for me, the juxtaposition could scarcely have been more stark. Gone was the shy, bespectacled and introverted performer I knew, and in its place was a live wire, feeding off the audience’s energy and jumping like a Masai – a consequence, one could guess, of increased confidence as a performer, a larger and more vocal audience, and switching to contact lenses, respectively.

Actually, a lot of the change probably had to do with the stellar musicians that Kaki now has backing her up – Jordan Perlson on drums and Dan Brantigan on synths – musicians who were introduced to her fans with the more electrified, band-driven arrangements of recent album Junior.

Set openers Falling Day and The Great Escape – two of Junior‘s highlight tracks – quickly revealed this more live and loose Kaki, with surprisingly strong vocals to boot. Death Head got me thinking that some of Dave Grohl’s riff-writing mojo might have rubbed off on Kaki in their brief time working together. But what was really interesting was that the momentum set by these rockier tracks went unbroken through the selections taken from Kaki’s ostensibly ‘folkier’ albums Until We Felt Red and Dreaming Of Revenge.

Having the band behind her has also enabled Kaki to add more tools of expression to her arsenal. Where unpredictable tempo changes have been a regular device of hers to keep things interesting, the continuity provided by her backing musicians now allows her to play around more with (sometimes extreme) distortion. Kaki now also has the option of holding back and letting her fellow players shine; Everything Has An End, Even Sadness found her playing a relatively simple part throughout, with the other players swelling and subduing around it with great intuition.

At least one well-timed break in the rock frenzy came with the slow and sublime Can Anyone Who Has Heard This Music Really Be A Bad Person? While for anyone who still preferred the solo acoustic format, Kaki was kind enough to give the band a break and perform a medley of favourites including the cool ‘n’ jazzy Goby and the percussively arresting Steamed Juicy Bun.

And in the middle of it all was that same endearingly flippant banter. Actually, not quite the same, because it featured two magic ingredients that have been lacking in Kaki’s audience interactions of the past: a punch-line and a point. One of the more interesting revelations was that Kaki’s father, with his penchant for bizarre non-sequiturs, has been the unwitting inspiration for many of her notoriously abstract song titles. That, and the fact she has finally been through the ‘rite of passage’ for any regular visitor to Australia of having her back burnt to a crisp. (“My skin cancer has skin cancer,” she revealed)

Once those distractions were over though, the final part of the show left nothing to get in the way of the frenzy – during some particularly aggressive improvisation, I thought I saw a sneer come over Kaki’s usually composed features. It was very sexy. And as for the show closer of You Don’t Have To Be Afraid, the final, bewildering crescendo meant that, for our eardrums at least, we should bloody well be afraid.

Of course, the common ingredients of any Kaki gig are innovative musicianship and outrageous chops. But where the contemplative, cerebral and bookishly cute persona that Kaki wore during her early forays into Australia meant that it was sometimes an effort to pay attention to the abstract arrangements, today the effort would lie in not paying attention to this funny, engaging and – dare I say it – smoking hot rock chick.

Review by Jessie Shrock