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Shigeto electrifies audience with electronic mix and live ensemble

(Photo by Calli Storrs) From left to right, Ian Fink on the keyboard, Marcus Elliot on the saxophone, and Shigeto on the drums. All of them were on electronics.
(Photo by Calli Storrs) From left to right, Ian Fink on the keyboard, Marcus Elliot on the saxophone, and Shigeto on the drums. All of them were on electronics.

The first notes of Marcus Elliot’s saxophone soared above the crowd in the purple and blue hazy lights, capturing and propelling the crowd to sway and move to the whirlpool of Shigeto’s beat and electric tones and Ian Fink’s keyboard cohering it all.

Together, the three make up Shigeto’s Live Ensemble Tour, which spans Oct. 1–10 in the U.S., and Nov. 14–18 in Europe. On Wednesday, Oct. 3, the tour stopped in San Francisco as the trio performed at The Independent on Divisadero Street.

“Your live show is that if anybody doesn’t think that electronic music has a visceral aspect, you bring that with what you’re doing electronically, and the live drums,” KEXP host Alex Ruder said in an interview with Saginaw on air.

The lineup was a mix of older and newer pieces, with Elliot and Fink’s presence creating a whole other sound, jazzy and flowing. Huron River Drive, an older piece, meandered contentedly around, while newer piece There’s a Vibe Tonight had people jumping and bopping to the beat. Those songs and several other songs made up the rest of the little-over-an-hour-long performance.

Shigeto is both the middle name and stage name for Zachary Saginaw, an electronic musician from Ann Arbor, Michigan. In his biography, on the Resident Advisor website, he said the choice to use his name is an homage to his Japanese grandfather and that part of his heritage. His hometown also figures into his music, his most popular track on Spotify being Detroit Part 1.

“We all came up playing the Detroit jazz circuit, the Michigan jazz circuit,” Saginaw said of himself, Fink and Elliot.  Lawrence William’s track, #3 was, on the list. “This is an important track for us, we both learned it from our mentors, mine being Vincent York, theirs being the great Marcus Belgrave. So we’re keeping the tradition alive with this Detroit classic, #3.”

Saginaw credits York with saving him from dropping out of high school, according to a Detroit Metro Times article, allowing him to fulfill credits through his passion for music; for example getting history credits by learning the history of jazz. After graduating high school, Saginaw went on to study jazz in New York City and London.

“He showed me how to play based on feeling and ear. I wouldn’t be here without him,” Saginaw said in the article by the Detroit Metro Times. “My first performance with a live band, playing Shigeto songs at the Detroit Symphony, featured him. It was an honor to have him there, years later, playing my tunes.”

Saginaw has been producing music for over 10 years, starting with his first album in 2008 up to his latest release, Weighted EP, which came out on Sept. 29. Currently signed to Ghostly International, Saginaw’s style has been related to Tycho, Bonobo and Nosaj Thing.

In an interview with the Detroit Metro Times, Saginaw revealed a little insecurity around starting in the electronic music industry.

“I was nervous at first about being accepted—nervous that people would think I was trying to jump on the Detroit bandwagon or something,” Saginaw said in the article by the Detroit Metro Times. “I was wrong. I’ve felt very welcomed here [Detroit] and feel like I’m becoming more and more a part of the fabric.”

However, Saginaw seems to have relaxed into his profession and art, grounding in his own knowledge and experience over the years. His understanding and interaction with the crowd was almost all through the music, with brief remarks in between some sets, preferring to let the music speak for itself.

And the crowd responded, bodies bobbing rhythmically as he wrecked his drums leading up to the beat drop. The audience hollered when they recognized a song or a name; they danced through songs blending into the next and waited at the end of a song, reluctant to end. 

That night, the crowd got to witness what seemed to be an intimate welcoming into the space of these three artists as they played off each other, separately and collectively. They were in a type of synchrony that felt neither scripted nor impromptu, a comfortable building off each other that felt like, and probably was, old friends jamming out.

“I have a general structure I like to have in every set,” Saginaw said, in the article by the Detroit Metro Times. “Certain transitions that I know work, certain high and low points. I improvise inside of that structure, much like soloing over jazz changes, [playing] your own thing but within the structure of the tune.”

Shigeto has a quiet reputation for putting on dynamic iterations of his songs, never seeming to play the same song twice, yet always eliciting the same peaceful awe and energy. This show was no different; his music feeds your soul. He poured spirit, focus and care into his performance, exciting and electrifying the audience.

Saginaw turned to the crowd.

“There’s definitely a vibe tonight,” he said, smiling.