- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Acoustic guitar prodigy Kaki King returns to Northern Virginia this weekend, but this time she’s plugging in, singing, and bringing a band. Expect a guitar extravaganza of some sort Sunday night at the State Theatre.

Miss King’s admittedly jaw-dropping displays slipped under the radar at first, noticed primarily by jazz fans and guitar techies, although in 2003 she broke out with performances at the Bonnaroo Festival and on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” She treats the whole guitar as a percussion instrument, slapping the base and tapping two-handed over the neck like percussive guitar pioneer Preston Reed.

“I’d already been doing something similar [to his style], and then I met him … it was sort of serendipitous,” she explains by phone while driving home to New York City. “Once I saw him it was like, ‘This can really be turned into something great.’”

Miss King’s new album “… Until We Felt Red” (Velour) finds her experimenting with electric and steel guitars, baroque soundscapes (notably the eight-minute epic “You Don’t Have To Be Afraid”), and her own voice, which echoes the breathy fragility of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and which Miss King wisely treats as just another instrument.

Her favorite band growing up was the female-led English dream-pop group Lush. “I love that upper-register soft vocal, and it also happens to be really the way my voice sounds best,” she says. “And I love the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser and the girl from Stereolab [Laetitia Sadier].”

The opener “Yellowcake” comes close to acoustic hypno-pop, and is one of several headphones-only tracks here. Although the lyrics on “… Until” are strictly secondary — this isn’t an attempt to be a singer/songwriter — “Second Brain” does raise a brief smile in declaring “the best instrument in the world is still the piano.”

Despite drum rolls and crashing guitars at times, there’s an oddly pastoral feel throughout the album, particularly on “First Brain,” where Dan Brantigan’s flugelhorn seems inspired by Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain.”

Miss King will have a keyboardist plus drummer Matt Hankle (Blue Man Group) with her. (Mr. Brantigan is doing sound duties but may hop on stage for a song or two.) She’ll do “a little solo set in the middle” with older material and perhaps a Morrissey cover.

So why the drastic sonic detour for this album? “I didn’t have a third solo guitar album in me,” she says, confessing her wariness of being “pigeonholed by the press as the guitar-tapping girl.”

“Most artists have to be really strong and define themselves, and define themselves again,” she says. “Then you can go and do that little project with the Brazilian drummer that you always dreamed of.”

The hard-touring homeboys of Virginia Coalition (VACO to their fans) return to the 9:30 Club tomorrow and Saturday night to officially release their new CD, cleverly titled “Live at the 9:30 Club.”

It’s hard to believe the T.C. Williams music program alumni waited eight years to release a concert album (it was taped in January), given that they’ve always been a live band first; “9:30” is two hours of (mostly) solid party listening, ideal for cranking during that drive to Dewey Beach.

As always, Paul Ottinger’s manic percussion and Andrew Poliakoff’s John Popperesque vocals anchor the go-go-meets-Dave Matthews sound, although the loss of Steve Dawson’s crooning lead vocals in 2003 has made it harder for VACO to stand out from the DMB wannabes.

Generic Southern rockers like “That’s What You Said” can?t compare in energy or virtuosity to the jazzy Latin stylings of “Gates of Wisdom” and its blistering keyboard solo by Mr. Ottinger. VACO fans will be happy that the funked-up go-go standards like “Walk to Work” and “Jerry Jermaine” are included.

The old “‘80s for the ladies” covers (Toto’s “Africa,” The Buggles? “Video Killed the Radio Star”) aren’t here, although there’s a nice crowd sing-along during a version of “Lean on Me.” And “Meteor” demonstrates that VACO can be a great jazzy jam band when it wants to be.

Although VACO’s sound seems more mature (not always a good thing), the fact that the album artwork seems inspired by comics legend Jack Kirby suggests the members are still kids (or at least college students) at heart.

As Mr. Poliakoff sums it up to the crowd on “Places People”: “This is now the place to be, and everybody is getting down.”

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