If you have a heart, you will like Kina Grannis. If you do not like Kina Grannis, you either have not heard of her or you kick puppies. This is what I learned from going to see her play her impossibly cheery live set last night. On this oddly warm night, I headed down Wilshire Boulevard in LA to the El Rey, a beautiful little venue with a vintage feel to it. Dramatic chandeliers hung and splayed light around, making for wonderful shadows on crimson walls. The pre-show chatter made me feel at home and I nestled in.
To open for Kina, Imaginary Friend took the stage around 9. Made up of guitarist and singer Jesse Epstein, keyboardist Michael Garner (from Lady Danville), and drummer also-Michael, these guys played a handful of songs to make your heart (because if you were at this show, you obviously possess one) melt. The songs were happy and sad all at the same time, and Jesse talked to the crowd like we were an abnormally large group of close friends.
Kina began her set around 10 to a roar of applause from a very excited and supportive audience. The stage looked deep and cavernous and made Kina seem tiny…pixie-like. Dust swirled around and caught the light as she kicked off with “World In Front of Me,” featuring a xylophone which gave the song a delightfully childlike feel. She chatted with the crowd in between songs with basically the most adorable demeanor I’ve ever witnessed: she was humble and bashful and grateful and giggly and silly and excited and nervous all at the same time. She expressed several times her overwhelming excitement at playing such a big show (despite the small venue’s size, it was pretty packed). She requested the lights to be shined on the crowd several times in order to see our faces, which prompted her face to shift from a blinded-by-the-lights squint to a full-blown, raised-eyebrow I-just-got-a-pony-for-my-birthday look of awe as she surveyed the audience and shrieked and waved.
Following this adorable display (this word will keep coming up—there is no other word more fitting), she played “Strong Enough,” “Together,” and picked up the pace a bit with “Give Me Back,” which was noticeably heavier on percussion and pacing (I dig). It also featured some beautiful falsetto action à la Ingrid Michaelson. Kina then introduced her band and…goldfish? Yes. Her goldfish. It had its own little table on stage. When I said adorable, I meant adorable. She played “Cambridge,” took some video of the crowd cheering, and expressed her loyalty to the USC Trojans (psh, go Bruins). Next was “Stay Just A Little,” the blissfully sweet little tune that was reminiscent of a lullaby, followed by a brand new song called “The One You Say Goodnight To,” for which Kina called some “helpers” on to stage (the dudes of Imaginary Friend) to clap along with her and the crowd. She sipped her tea on stage (“I’m drinking mint tonight!” she revealed—adorably, of course) and sang a song about her family called “My Own” after giving shout-outs to her mother and father in the audience. For her next song, she brought out her friend David Choi (who garnered a huge applause) to play the ukulele. The song they played, “My Time With You,” was written by both of them, and they orchestrated a crowd snap-a-long for the performance. This upbeat little song about happy beach times with buddies would be enough to make Jason Mraz pee his swim trunks with delight. The show continued on with a hilarious (AND ADORABLE) cover of “Gangster’s Paradise,” the apparent crowd favorite, “Valentine,” and “ The Goldfish Song.”
The show finished up with Kina giving the most heartfelt and adorable thank yous you’ve ever heard, occasionally interrupted by her own tearing up and asides (aimed at talking herself out of crying). The last song (not really—there was an encore) was “Message From Your Heart.” She unplugged her guitar and stood away from the mic (“I just want to sing with you guys…”), and the result was beautiful—honestly, beautiful. The crowd knew all the words to the simple and lovely song, and being there, singing in the dark with a bunch of strangers, was like singing around a campfire, and suddenly all these strangers felt like your closest friends. It was a seriously special experience. I may or may not have teared up…just a little.
All in all, you may have noticed reading this that I didn’t go into much detail with each song. Such is the nature of Kina’s music—it is simple and earnest; it is at once uplifting and heartbreaking; it is truthful. Her voice is euphonic and natural; her sound is easy listening—the songs do not require much dissection, just an attentive ear. What was so wonderful about this show was Kina’s presence, her adorable personality that resonated seamlessly with a room full of strangers. I was worried about her being another Colbie Caillat or Tristan Prettyman replica, but she is a legitimately quirky and unique individual with an undeniable ability to put a smile on everyone’s face. Also, I was reminded what a treasure live music is, and the capacity of a live presence to alter opinions. And, yes, I am aware of how painfully cheesy this is, but it’s the cheesy, adorable truth.
UPDATE: Here is some video footage of Kina performing the song “Cambridge”!
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