Kan Wakan And Moon Honey At The Bootleg Theater, Saturday February 18th 2017
The mistake I made the first time I saw Kan Wakan was to think that the singer at the time, Kristianne Bautisda, was part of the band.However Kan Wakan is essentially one single person, producer, film composer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Gueorgui Linev, and the big ensemble he gathers on stage fluctuates along his multi-faceted compositions. Four singers succeeded on stage at the Bootleg theater on Saturday night, and if I immediately got a big Massive-Attack-meets-Radiohead’s-dreamy-side vibe, the music was as elusive as it was unclassifiable.
Before Kan Wakan, the strange and sweet Moon Honey opened the night, fronted by the beautiful Jessica Ramsey, who had Bjork’s cotton candy red hair and Kate Bush’s operatic howls. They were claiming their weirdness big time, with their completely free-spirited sound which was going in many directions at the same time, while Ramsey and guitarist Andrew Martin were bouncing and frolicking on stage. Their shining and buoyant songs, which could even take a Chinese-like melody, were like the missing link between Bjork and Joanna Newsom with an occasional touch of glam rock in the guitars, and if their wide-eyed music was inventive and often puzzling, it was also eerie, a sort of a pastoral glam or colorful opera, reinventing psychedelia with chaotic arias rather than endless instrumental jams.
Kan Wakan has a very ambitious sound, and their set last night reached a new level of creativity toward the likes of Massive Attack, Portishead, or Radiohead – I noticed the DJ did spin 3 Radiohead songs before the show – but also jazz, electronica, orchestral soundtrack for film noir or European symphony for creepy fairy tales. Their set was so vastly influenced that it is a challenge to classify them – and why would I? – as their music was elegantly navigating between dreamy soundscapes and part organic-part electronic vibrating productions, that could have broken any heart.
Following his debut album ‘Moving On’ released in 2014, Gueorgui Linev has embarked in his most ambitious project so far, a triple LP entitled ‘Phantasmagoria’, that should be out in May. Last night, we got a wide-screen preview of the 24-months-in-the-making project with some of the numerous guests which will appear on the album. After an ambiant instrumental, Elle Olsun’s magnificent vocals shone through one of my favorite tracks so far, ‘I Would’, which starts with a majestic Massive Attack soundwave before being torn apart by a Moonage-Daydream-like guitar solo. Live, Elle Olsun has the type of ethereal voice which could navigate between those of Martina Topley-Bird (I saw her performing with Massive Attack) and Billie Holiday and the result was equally dreamy and astonishing on other songs, whereas Mike Rocha was adding a subtle trumpet line to the already complex and sultry sonic textures. It was glorious music, installing a poignant melancholia while occasionally exploding to the next level, elegantly mixing delicate intimacy with jazz noir, trip hop and some rare rock-arena moments.
‘Hold Me Close’, which came out on Valentine’s Day, had a sweeter melody that would curl in your eardrum with a romantic mandolin-like guitar, and if Olsun was fantastic and probably my favorite part of the show, she was followed by other vocalists, equally remarkable, like Dre Babinski (Steady Holiday) who had also brought her violin at the top of her fragile falsetto. The atmosphere turned dreamier and more mysterious, like the soundtrack of some fantastic tale or creepy European movie, driven by a stomp, a jazz-cabaret trumpet and a Radiohead-ish guitar.
Then vocalist Tien Nguyen (whom I had the pleasure to see perform in the past with his own band) brought a more R&B vibe to the show with more songs (including ‘Still Feather’ and ‘Habits’), and at this point, when I thought I had figured out Kan Wakan, they would bring more detours and would open something else, adding another layer to their immersive world of complex compositions.
If Tien’s vocals were expressive and R&B-inspired, the textural soundscapes stayed very layered, just flirting with modern R&B and even trending on dance-floor during a few songs. Then, Rachel Fannan (The Bomb) ended the show with her clear and emotive voice during a few celestial songs including ‘Planet 9’, ‘If I Could Only’ and the moving ‘I Had to Laugh’ in an encore.
The whole evening sounded like a magic trip and, based on what I have heard, Gueorgui Linev’s forthcoming triple-LP ‘Phantasmagoria’ promises to be just this, haunting and poignant, reaching deep emotions at an epic level. The songs were entirely new to me, as they didn’t perform any of their last album, and the genre-defying music slowly sprawled like a beautiful and foggy dream, oscillating between pain and hope, while building its own space inside the Bootleg, a kaleidoscopic kind of space, whose each stunning facet was revealed by a guest vocalist.