Kaki King was surrounded by an exotic array of acoustic axes at the Birchmere on Tuesday night, including a harp guitar, custom-made 7 and 12 string beauties, a Hawaiian lap steel and a Dojo — that’s right, part dobro, part banjo. Eager to combat solo guitar fatigue, she was armed to the teeth.
She was also in loopy mood, punctuating her show with amusing anecdotes, weird digressions and an invitation for concertgoers to feel her skull — apparently an unforgettable experience — after the show. There was nothing undisciplined about her guitar playing, however. She belongs to that school of eccentric stylists who make percussive use of altered tunings, unorthodox fret hand techniques, pianistic, finger-tapping and pattern-picking rolls. Besides adding rich color and texture to her own tunes, and a lot of rhythmic drive, King’s unusual arsenal suggested or affirmed the influence of various guitar wizards, such as David Lindley and the late Michael Hedges. “Zeitgeist,” a gadget-equipped duet with trumpeter Dan Brantigan, evoked trippy electronica, but otherwise King was left to her own devices, fingers in flight. And though her voice and lyrics aren’t nearly as remarkable as her guitar work, “Sunnyside” was proof that King’s ballads can strike emotional chords now and then.
19-year-old Australian guitar phenom Joe Robinson opened with a solo acoustic set. Like King, Robinson may well attract a wider following if he focuses on singing and composing. In fact, with his boyish croon and good looks, it’s not hard to imagine him rivaling the popularity of, say, John Mayer in coming years, especially if he emphasizes his electric guitar chops. His fundamental style, though, is influenced by fellow Aussie Tommy Emmanuel, a virtuosic disciple of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins.
Robinson saluted Emmanuel at the Birchmere with an arrangement of “Over The Rainbow” that moved from harmonics-laced balladry to brisk, chordal swing, and he later updated “Classical Gas” with an engaging mixture of rhythmic aggression and melodic finesse. “Adelaide” was among the songs that pointed to his pop and country promise, but nothing came close to overshadowing the instrumental dazzlers Robinson created and often wrote. He brings his trio to the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis Thursday night.