There are very few artists who show the caliber of musicianship displayed by French multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, French Kiwi Juice (otherwise known as FKJ). His music knows no bounds, ranging from dynamic house and psych-rock to moody piano ballads and lo-fi indie vibes. Surprisingly, though, none of this music felt disjointed or out of place last Friday night at Mission Ballroom — every song had a distinct FKJ feel, regardless of genre or tempo.
If you’ve seen FKJ’s Cercle sets or NPR Tiny Desks, you know how much emotion bleeds through his creative, multifaceted style. But, as great as these performances are, they don’t necessarily represent the full scope of FKJ’s performance potential. That’s where Misson Ballroom comes in.
The stage design was simple but set the tone perfectly. The production featured a minimalist design that, aside from the wide three-piece screen that displayed sunny days over a lush green forest and roaring thunderstorms between heavy clouds, included only the bare necessities to project the feeling of a late-night studio session — light orange lamps, a few small rugs, a crate of vinyl records and even a couch for lounging.
These tranquil vibes and the classically-influenced stillness of FKJ’s music were a match made in heaven. From the opening track — a fluorescent house song with some tropical aesthetics — to the final encore (which, of course, included his massive hit with Masego, “Tadow”), FKJ displayed incredible musicality and a definitive knack for the creative experience. There were plenty of sax, piano and guitar solos, which gave each track a bit of breathing room for improvisational passages and an occasional jam sesh between FKJ and his two other band members.
That was one aspect of his Mission Ballroom show that proved a pleasant surprise — his band. FKJ is traditionally known as a one-man band and has built his reputation as a miraculous collaborator with industry friends like Bas and Tom Misch. While FKJ is certainly capable of balancing the many roles of a complete live band, inviting two other fantastic musicians on stage allowed FKJ to explore the illusive art of the jam, feeding off the energy of his counterparts with impeccable clarity and purpose.
Despite the relaxing nature of FKJ’s music, there was plenty of energy to go around. Songs like “Losing My Way” with Tom Misch and “100 Roses” were explosive demonstrations of inspiration, filled with vibrant guitar solos and fulminant climaxes, accompanied by moody light demonstrations and thundering visuals that evoked a musical storm of chaotic creativity.
Still, tracks like “Way Out” and “10 Years” brought a perfect harmony of jazz and classical influence, beautiful sax and piano solos and a subtle sweetness in FKJ’s soothing vocal performances that generated mystical tranquility. Across the crowd of swaying bodies caught in lavender daydreams, glowing with smiling faces and occasional tears of joy, hypnosis reigned at Mission Ballroom.
FKJ was clearly born into music; his melodies are engraved into his soul, existing in an artistic plane few people have ever tapped into with the level of natural purpose embedded into every note he plays. If you want to experience unencumbered creativity and flawless execution, FKJ is calling your name.
All photography by David Cohn.