Houston trio “Khruangbin” fills Royale with infectious funk

December 14, 2018


Shayla Manning / Journal Staff

Clad in sequins, wigs and some serious sass, sultry trio Khruangbin dominated the stage during their sold out show at Royale nightclub on Dec. 6 as part of their tour promoting their sophomore album, “Con Todo El Mundo.”

Hailing from Houston, Khruangbin, pronounced Khroong-bin, are known for blending global musical styles. The band’s name translates to “airplane” in Thai and their debut album “The Universe Smiles Upon You” was influenced by a style known as “wong shadow,” a 1960’s style of Thai funk. “Con Todo El Mundo” expands on their global influence by mixing Spanish and Middle Eastern music, specifically that of pre-revolutionary Iran.

Refusing to be assigned to a particular genre, Khruangbin’s mostly instrumental style touches on soul, dub, psychedelia and electronic music. Guitarist Mark Speer’s twangy and melodic sound flows over Laura Lee’s confident bass work, while drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson’s calm and cool presence mans the drums.

The group’s stripped-down sound enticed listeners from the second they strutted on stage. Opening the show with the electric grooviness of “Bin Bin,” a hidden track off their first album, they immediately sent the crowd into a technicolor dance party, with grinning faces and shimmying shoulders all around.

Transitioning back and forth between songs from each of their albums, fans audibly expressed their excitement while the band performed their groovy hits one after another.

After the smooth and relaxing love songs “Friday Morning” and “Cómo Me Quieres,” which translates to “How Much Do You Love Me,” they quickly jumped into the infectious “Dern Kala” with Lee swinging her hips back and forth, grinning from cheek to cheek at the crowd’s liveliness. The song “Evan Finds The Third Room” took a disco baseline and dance floor beats, and turned the entire room inside out.

What had to be the most engaging part of the show was the surprisingly killer hip-hop medley the trio jumped into with Dr Dre’s “The Next Episode.” Sampling instrumental versions of “Got Your Money” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard, “Electric Relaxation” by A Tribe Called Quest,  “It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube and more, the crowd sang the lyrics while the band became the backdrop, remaining effortlessly cool on stage.

Between Speer and Lee’s menacingly slow walks across the stage, and Johnson’s never-crack-a-smile demeanor, the band created a mysterious environment for concertgoers. With an incredibly tight sound, the band’s fast-paced set seemed to flow with complete assurance. Barely taking time to address the crowd in between songs, Speer wanted to give the crowd what they came for, wasting no time that could be spent on music.

Coming back out for an encore after a psychedelic and captivating set, Johnson sat serenely at his drums on the dimly lit stage, waiting for his bandmates to join him. Lee had changed into a black and yellow sequined leotard with fiery orange colored thigh-high boots, and the crowd could not get enough. They swayed along to the slow jam “White Gloves” before being surprised with a timely cover of “Christmas Time Is Here” by Vince Guaraldi that the band released on Spotify last month.

The trio asked the show’s opener Will Van Horn to join them on keyboard for their last song, the popular track “People Everywhere (Still Alive).” The crowd seized their last opportunity to dance along to the band’s chilled-out funk, the upbeat energy of the song reinforcing the positive vibes.

Khruangbin’s far out take on a variety of different, worldly genres is presented in a way that is not overly extravagant or too simplified, drawing crowds in to experience their display of melancholy sound that has often been compared to a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. Solid and confident musicianship coupled with an utterly cool aesthetic, Khruangbin continues to prove their evolution is ongoing, and has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

Their United States tour ends in a few weeks, but they will be making their way overseas in 2019.

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