Shigeto played at Yoshi's in San Francisco on Friday night.

Live Review: Emancipator & Shigeto
Yoshi’s San Francisco, 3/23/12

Shigeto‘s loops bear the hallmark of being stuffed with precise and unexpected detail–he’s always keen to throw in a punctuating kick in this split-second of space here, another layer on top of already swarming arrangements there. The whole wall of sound that constitutes a Shigeto beat isn’t a wall at all, but a malleable, brisk cloud of interchangeable elements. For that reason, it’s never enough to just nod to the 1s and 2s at a Shigeto concert, what with the world of detail that rises and falls in the interim.

His set is clearly at its best when he’s behind the drums. When the jazz-imbued stickhandler in Shigeto sits down to back his loops, he provides exactly what his off-kilter arrangements seek to imitate: the naturalizing touch of human imperfection. There are only so many things you can do to a prewritten loop to “play” it live, and Shigeto certainly carries the DJ tools of snap delays, channel cuts and filter sweeps in his pocket. But it is behind the drumset where his skittish hi-hats and grandiose swells serve to reinterpret the cadence of his beats on the fly, enhancing the unpredictable warmth that backbones the Shigeto sound.

Emancipator is a different train on the same musical track, coasting past the same scenery: landscapes of condensed beauty driven by hip hop underpinnings. The front-row audience crammed themselves stageside for the entire set, with one girl (woozily, barely) sitting on the edge of the stage – which, at the Yoshi’s lounge, isn’t large enough to afford the band much of a personal bubble. He enlisted a live violinist for the set, and while that served well to enliven some of Emancipator’s downtempo stylings, it got a little irksome watching them shoehorn parts for the instrument into every song, especially when some would have been better served without accompaniment. To be fair, this is an observation that seemed to be shared by no one – certainly not the dedicated fans who jostled, shimmied and shook stageside in intimate communion with the band.