IN recent decades the legendary Bob Dylan, much to the ire of his fans, has made detachment central to his concert experience.
Fans heading along to Dylan’s Wednesday night show at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre will surely learn that when he fails to utter a word.
Fellow American Kaki King also employed a level of detachment to her audience on Sunday night at Lizotte’s. However, this wasn’t some act of rudeness or nonchalance, instead it was artistic expression.
The 38-year-old King is an experimental guitar powerhouse. Famously Rolling Stone magazine’s youngest member and sole female on their 2006 New Guitar Gods list.
Yet in her critically-acclaimed The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body show, she isn’t the star or the centre of attention. Not in King’s eyes anyway.
It’s more performance art, than a musical concert.
The focus of the performance was her guitar. Before the show began her customised white Ovation Adamas 1581-KK acoustic sat suspended in the centre of the stage.
Then through a kaleidoscope of video projections and synthesizer King walked onto stage dressed in white.
This minimalist appearance was completed with a pair of large white sunglasses and an expressionless face.
Before the tour King described herself as merely a vessel for which to channel the music of the guitar.
“As long as I show up for the guitar, it shows up for me and guides the way,” King told the Newcastle Herald.
And so the next hour progressed, with the guitar illuminated with a constantly-changing collage of visual imagery about life, creation and death. King was almost out of view behind the body and the neck as she furiously danced along the fret board with her fingers.
After the opening track In The Beginning she stared blankly out into the small, yet appreciative audience. After the longest and most awkward of silences, as if daring the crowd to speak, King gave a quiet, “hello.”
After that, not a word was spoken until after the penultimate song.
Instead King allowed her instrument and the multimedia projections on both the guitar’s body and backing screen to speak to the audience.
The performance mostly stuck to the album version of The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, the dramatic finale of The Surface Changes drew the biggest crowd response and It Runs and Breathes sounded more distorted and edgy live.
King’s guitar playing was at it’s most impressive when she combined her fingerstyle with fret-tapping slap bass techniques. The competing rhythms were a marvel to behold.
However, at times the performance did suffer from needless pretension. Particularly in the feedback heavy Battle Is A Learning.
Before the final song King finally emerged from her cold aura of detachment, raised her sunglasses and addressed the crowd. In a lengthy and warm monologue she rambled about Newcastle being her final Australian show and one of the last ever performances of the three-year-old The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, as well as her plan to see the Great Barrier Reef in the coming days.
By the time King started advertising her custom passerelle bridge for sale, you were certainly ready for more music. And what music it was.
Sadly only a crowd of about 40 people were there to listen and see King’s innovative multimedia production. A Sunday night in winter is a difficult sell, but a world class guitarist as inventive and compelling as Kaki King deserved better.