Review | Kaki King Unplugged, at Heart and in Mind, At SOhO Santa Barbara

“Santa Barbara Acoustic” Series Soars With Top-Drawer Guitarist

Credit: Josef Woodard

Under normal conditions, the admirable series of top-drawer acoustic guitar artists hosted by the “Santa Barbara Acoustic” series — currently monthly on Sundays at SOhO (, 1221 State St.) — consists of music with the a-word upfront. If not completely acoustic and “unplugged,” and often aided by transducers and evolving electronics geared towards making “acoustic” clarity all the more so. It’s a fairly conservative world, in the main.

It was a different story or three the night Kaki King came to town last week. For one important distinction, King — who burst on the scene in the mid-00s and played SOhO around that time — has long been one of the rare and rightfully acclaimed women in the stubbornly male-dominated field of instrumental acoustic guitarists. She has carved out her own musical language, related to the world of post-folk and progressive instrumental guitar sounds we know and love, such as the late Michael Hedges’ highly percussive approach to the instrument and a wizardly way with open tunings and spidery fretboard adventuring.

Veering refreshingly away from the “purity” of the acoustic guitar scene, she has incorporated such added technological elements as a running light show projected on the very face/screen of her mounted guitar, and spare use of sampling, from the conceptual art side of things. Among the visual stimuli projected onto her instrument were pure abstractions, nature imagery and phrases airlifted from psychological inquiries.

She is also openly gay and, as the years mount up for this feisty and funny 41-year-old, a performer as free spirit with few filters on what makes for good performer-audience conversation or would-be alt-stand-up comedy. For those focused more strictly on her musical vision, King — with 10 albums from the past 19 years to draw from — offered plenty of propulsive rippling rhythms, exotic ambiences, and open-tuned lyricism to savor, and anticipate the next time around.

King’s altogether fantastic SOhO journey was the penultimate show in the current acoustic spring season, which closes on June 12 with the prized — and prize-winning — Australian-bred guitarist Joe Robinson. Expect no visual projections on that occasion.

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