Gueorgui Linev, the mastermind behind Kan Wakan, describes his forthcoming triple-LP “Phantasmagoria” as “a haunted story, a dream-state — tall and obtuse, a movement through rooms, where walls are windows and doors swing enter/exit on whim-ful moments, making sense as its path unfurls, yet perplexing to explain upon reflection.”
After Kan Wakan’s riveting outing Saturday night at the Bootleg Theater, Linev’s ornate description began to make sense. Featuring multi-instrumentalist Linev backed by a quartet of musicians and abetted by four guest vocalists, the performance was jaw-dropping on a lot of levels — the most of obvious of which was: When was the last time the headliner at a club show played all-new material for more than 90 minutes?
The emotional scope of the music — bleak to mysterious to spacey to hopeful — matched its sonic breadth, which mainly derives from Kan Wakan’s keen ability to balance the electronic and the organic. The Bulgaria-born Linev employed orchestration from the Sofia Philarmonic on the album, and absent a string section at the Bootleg, the show could have become a garish mess of backing tracks. It didn’t.
With the computer rightfully in the background, Linev’s live hands showed their stuff: fellow Bulgarian drummer Vassil Voutev exploring some of the music’s almost nu-jazz complexities, bassist Cooper Appelt nice and thick when he needed to be and guitarist Joshua Willing Halpern darting out of the shadows at times for solos and some Mercury Rev-like crescendos. Trumpeter Mike Rocha, stationed at the back of the stage like a secret weapon, was just that, underlining every emotion on the four songs on which he was prominently featured. By the time he finished the outro of the chill-inducing finale, “I Had to Laugh,” you’d have thought he’d blown “Taps.”
Kan Wakan played none of the material from the 2014 debut “Moving On,” instead signaling they have indeed moved on. Saturday’s parade of singers began, after a minimalist instrumental intro, with Elle Olsun, whose ethereal vocals carry the early singles “Molasses,” “I Would” and “Hold Me Close.” New song “The Rain Came Down,” with Rocha adding his magic, was the revelation during her six songs fronting the band. Olsun was followed by Dre Babinski (Steady Holiday), who lent not only her delicate voice but her original specialty, the violin, to the sprawling “Phantasmagoria Pt. 2.” The next batch of material leaned toward R&B, with Tien Nguyen (Saigo) sailing through five songs, highlighted by “Still Feather” and “Habits.”
Then Rachel Fannan (Only You/The Bomb/Sleepy Sun) took over for “Planet 9,” “If I Could Only” and the encore, “I Had to Laugh.” It’s a song on which she has to hit the high notes, and she did, and it was.
Moon Honey opened the night with their free-form celestial glam.