Kaki King’s The Neck is a Bridge to the Body - Live at Rough Trade NYC

“An hour-long visual and live music performance where the guitar is used as a projection screen to tell a creation story.”

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For the past few months, Kaki King had been touring what has been called her landmark new work, The Neck Is A Bridge To The Body, which was released on March 3. This album, along with a light show and projections developed by Glowing Pictures, explores a new way of perceiving the guitar in a brilliant performance art piece, unlike anything I’ve ever seen live before. If you’ve ever closed your eyes while listening to a song and imagined floating through space, or any combination of shapes and colors, that’s kind of what this show does, from the point of view of this super futuristic looking white guitar, propped up between two stands, so that Kaki only needs to sit down behind it, wrap her arms around the neck and the body, and explore this beautiful and innovative way to play.

The whole show from beginning to end was continually awe-inducing, in a way that I kept switching back and forth from wondering how all these cool tech things are really happening right now, to just letting myself be immersed in the experience and swallowing up the whole feeling. From what I understand, the sounds Kaki creates with the guitar becomes visualized and reflected back as images. The software Glowing Pictures designed syncs perfectly with Kaki’s songs, so that as she’s playing, the images are telling this entire story of creation, travel, and how the guitar perceives itself. All created live before our eyes.

It begins in darkness, with astral plane-like glittering lights dancing in the dark beginnings. The creation. The light starts shooting through and across the guitar, until the whole instrument lights up brightly. That’s when Kaki comes out to situate herself behind the instrument, dressed in white to match the guitar, and sporting white sunglasses (because those laser-like lights must be bright), she awakens the guitar. And when a guitar is so magic that it needs to be awakened, trust that amazing things will happen.

After “In The Beginning,” Kaki starts to scratch, brush, and tap the shiny white body rhythmically until the ping-pong delay effect creeps in and builds the whole piece to its climax. This is when the first bumps and flashes are made on this journey, and the sound response is based on decibel level. This is where “Thoughts Are Born.”

“Anthropomorphe” features live drawings and writing by Shantell Martin, projected from a drawing tablet .  Here, besides the drawings to go with the sounds, Martin scrawls questions for the audience, making us question the condition of ourselves and think about why we’re here. She proposes simple lines that are both immediate to the current experience, and also complex enough to serve a broader sense. This goes into “The Surface Changes,” with all this animation and found footage reminding me that I should travel more. These images are first projected on the large screen, and then only the guitar as it becomes the shapeshifter, like a crystal ball to look into and see everything that exists in the world.

“Trying to Speak I” and “II” both represent higher learning, with colorful geometric shapes, and more traveling scenes. “The Roaming Guitar” is a piece not on the album, and is more of a funky little wah wah ditty with the singular white guitar in it’s awkward teenage guitar years. Kaki makes sure to inform us at the end of the set that this isn’t necessarily autobiographical of her experiences growing up, but the story has all the universal elements of growing up that most people experience in their life: feelings of being different and isolated, not being able to relate to peers, being bullied and then being mentored; and the forever family struggle of parents just don’t understand.

After that fun interlude, and some further deconstruction of vectors and x-ray animations, the real growing is done - “Battle is a Learning.” Musically more aggressive, this part is full of synth effects colliding into noise, all under Rat distortion. Probably the most cathartic piece in the show, this song is the outlet for all the intense feels that come along with really hashing something out until you figure it out and create something you never had before. It can be a bit of a wicked process, but it turns out really cool.

By the end of “We Did Not Create The Instrument, The Instrument Created Us,” a sense of serene enlightenment emanates through the atmosphere. There’s this vague but warm feeling that somehow the sounds and flickering backdrop that created these different moods, changing seasons, and a real sense of traveling and time passing like a collage of experiences had in one’s lifetime, has also become yours, and you are now wiser from this experience. There has clearly been a lot of planning, practice, and science that went into this whole concept, and the outcome is one everyone involved should be proud of, because the technical fell way to the intangible, and it didn’t seem like science. It felt like magic.