Kaki King / Jan. 20, 2007 / New York (Soho Apple Store)
Fingerpicking guitar prodigy Kaki King had laser eye surgery last week. Her eyesight, she said, once a ghastly -7.5 (meaning she could barely see a hand a few inches from her face) is now nearly 20/20Fingerpicking guitar prodigy Kaki King had laser eye surgery last week. Her eyesight, she said, once a ghastly -7.5 (meaning she could barely see a hand a few inches from her face) is now nearly 20/20. The one catch is that apparently the surgery creates a temporary sensitivity to bright lights, which caused her to ask that the stage lights at Apple's Soho store be turned down at her afternoon showcase on Jan. 20.
With the lights adjusted and this minor glitch overcome, King opened the gig with a song from her new album, "Dreaming of Revenge," due March 11 on Velour Records. "Bone Chaos in the Castle" is, in comparison to earlier, more ethereal works, a tight and brief piece, which a minimal amount of melodic wandering. If her goal on "Dreaming" is widening her New Age appeal to include an indie rock listener, this song is a good start.
Luckily, several years out from King's discovery in a New York subway, her mastery of the instrument hasn't been at all sacrificed for a wider fan base. And while she's been widely (and rightly) compared to solo guitar heroes such as John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges, King really is in a world of her own when she's moving her hands frenetically over her custom-made Ovation acoustic, using her forearm and left hand to pound the beat and each of her remaining fingers to chase a melody up and down the instrument.
King rubbed her hands over her face when she forgot the name of the second song, "I Need a Girl Who Has a Map, " asking her publicist, "What did we name this one?" Although she murmured reassuringly to herself, "I'll play it slow," she again attacked the guitar, bringing to mind the dexterity of a concert violinist or pianist. "I Need a Girl Who Has a Map," will be available exclusively on iTunes.
Another "new" song was the improv piece that she did with Dan Brantigan, her partner "Daysleeper," an experimental EP they recorded in December in Australia. As King plugged in to a black electric Gretch (one of her 30-plus guitars), her playing took on a lilting, relaxing vibe. Brantigan alternated between a traditional trumpet and a Steiner Crumar EVI, an analog trumpet synthesizer, to create sounds that could have been found in nature: seagulls squeaking and whales calling across crashing waves. As he eeked and squeaked his Morse code of mouth musings, King quietly strummed, weaving in and out of his playing, until suddenly, she slapped the fretboard and the blinding spotlight was back on her.
The pace of the song sped up dramatically, and the two, glancing at each other only momentarily, raced each other through a song that brought to mind a Native American warrior chant -- pounding rhythm and natural-sounding winds.
Two covers conveyed King's wacky sense of humor and acceptance of music far removed from her own. On Justin Timberlake's "LoveStoned," she used an octave pedal for the bass line, tapping and clicking on the body of the guitar for the drum, while loop feed kept it all going.
Before that, her cover of Morrissey's "Tomorrow" showed a lyrical/emotional range that is often muted on record. But when she said after the song finished, "Morrissey and I are having a baby. He doesn't know it yet," one couldn't help wishing for that unlikely gene pool slam-dunk.
Here is Kaki King's set list:
"Bone Chaos in the Castle"
"I Need a Girl Who Knows a Map"
"Doing the Wrong Thing"
"Gay Sons of Lesbian Mothers"