Khruangbin at O2 Academy, Birmingham, 22nd June 2022

Khruangbin are a three piece from Texas who draw on an eclectic mix of influences ranging from soul, funk, rock all served with a heavy dose of psychedelia. Having never seen them play live before, I was expecting a psychedelic inspired set with extended solos and jams but this was not to be the case. Apparently, Khruangbin have planned their whole tour around their Glastonbury set and the performance tonight certainly had the feel of a festival headliner rather than psych freak out rock show.

Khruangbin

The formation on the stage is set with a drum riser in the centre and then microphones either side at the front and as the lights go down the stage is swathed in blue as the band strut in. First Class is the opening song taken from their most popular album to date Mordechai. It is a track that harnesses a 1970’s American Summer soul vibe with its laid back feel and sporadic faint vocals allowing for Laura Lee’s bassline to take prominence as Mark Speer’s guitar swirls around. The quality of the sound in the Academy is tremendous and rich, truly encapsulating the warmth of the recording in a live venue. The drummer, Donald ‘DJ’ Johnson keeps a steady hip hop beat with an air of cool nonchalance. Unlike the others, Johnson chooses not to wear a wig, just shades and a hat as he sits at the top of the pyramid.

Khruangbin

Khruangbin’s set explores their back catalogue starting with August Twelve, with an introduction where the bass and guitar play the same rhythm before allowing Speer to explore the melody around the bassline, dropping in and out of the pattern at different points throughout the song before leading off to a more relaxed ending. This song sees the start of many of Lee and Speers stage walkabouts that tend to include walking up and crossing over on the drum riser at a slow steady pace, in a perfectly rehearsed fashion. After The Number 4, taken from an early EP, Mark Speer takes the opportunity to address the audience for the first time encouraging us to introduce ourselves to someone we are standing by if we don’t know them, then asks us to shout out the name of the person we have just met. Many at the front of the crowd are relishing the opportunity to meet someone new and there is plenty of shouting followed by rapturous appreciation as Speer introduces the band.

Khruangbin

Sticking with the numbers theme, Khruangbin play August 10 with its intricate guitar work that demonstrates the phenomenal ability Speer has as a player, skilfully exploring sound as fingers fly along the fretboard without missing a note. Moving away from the slower pace, So We Won’t Forget sees the audience start to sway and dance as the funky bassline and drums introduce the track. With the addition of Speer’s complex and melodious guitar the song is a catchy number enhanced by Lee’s beautiful vocal line which increases in volume with the effective use of crescendo throughout noticeably when she is singing “ooo”, reminiscent of the recently departed Julee Cruise. From this point on, the party atmosphere doesn’t stop. A huge disco ball that is suspended over the stage kicks into gear as does a lighting backdrop made to look like a luscious red velvet curtain creating the ambience of a 1970s discotheque. Segueing from So We Won’t Forget into Lady And Man sees the common theme of Lee’s “ooos” continue and whilst riding the essence of the album Con Todo El Mundo, Khruangbin progress with Evan Finds The Third Man and its ludicrously funky feel. On one of their walkabouts, Speer and Lee stand on the drum riser to play glass bottles with drumsticks as part of the song Pelota, which sees Lee embrace her Mexican heritage and illustrates the wide ranging global influences that impact Khruangbin’s music.

Khruangbin

Moving from Pelota, Khruangbin play the first of two medleys providing the musicians with an opportunity to give a tilt of the hat to fellow musicians. It starts with the opening of Let’s Dance by Bowie, needless to say this is fully embraced by the audience who take the dancing to a whole new level, then the band fly through a selection of artists ranging from Elton John and Chris Isaak to ODB and Warren G. The musicianship is immense as they deftly navigate the changes, ensuring the timings are tight as Speer manages to utilise different guitar effects to replicate classic vocal lines. Furthermore, during the hip hop tracks, Johnson continues to keep the beat whilst playing keyboards. The medley draws to a close with a longer rendition of Summer Madness by Kool and the Gang. The final song of the main set is Maria Tambien that draws on Middle Eastern scales and has a hint of surf rock about it; it would be well-suited to a Tarantino movie and has the stamp of Dick Dale all over it. Therefore it is no surprise when Khruangbin transition into the Dale classic Miserlou followed by The Sugarhill Gang’s Apache (Jump On it).

For the encore, Mark Steer returns to the stage for a finger-picking solo before being joined by Johnson who gradually increases the volume from the drums, particularly the vibrations from the kick drum. Lee reappears in a change of outfit (her aim to never wear the same outfit twice on stage) for White Gloves, a beautiful lilting number. A further tempo change and the use of a wah wah pedal starts the stupendously memorable Time (You and I). This song is the epitome of a classic dance track that would receive an enthusiastic response in any environment and explains why Khruangbin are riding the wave of popularity at the moment. Follow Time with People Everywhere (Still Alive) and Khruangbin have created the ultimate party. Add in a medley of dance classics including Snap!’s Rhythm is a Dancer, Crystal Waters’ Gypsy Woman and Inner City’s Big Fun and you have blown the roof off the building. I would struggle to name another band that could create such a positive atmosphere and offer such fabulous escapism at a time when life is looking bleak and certainly the audience are loving it all. Mark Speer thanks everyone and Laura Lee and Donald Johnson exit the stage leaving the lone figure of a guitar hero to carry on playing and bring the party to an end as he slowly walks off. Having never seen Khruangbin live before, this isn’t the set I was expecting but it set the Academy alight, and it is evidence as to why they are the perfect Glastonbury band.

 

Review: Toni Woodward

Photographs: Ian Dunn

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