Review: Khruangbin’s First Ever Show in Barcelona

TEXAS THREE-PIECE KHRUANGBIN BROUGHT THEIR UNIQUE BRAND OF GLOBALLY-INFLUENCED FUNK AND PSYCHEDELIA TO BARCELONA FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Khruangbin’s sound is notoriously hard to categorise. Drawing on influences from 1960’s Thai funk, as their Bandcamp page explains, guitarist Mark Speer, bass player Laura Lee and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson create bass heavy, psychedelic soundscapes which are quickly becoming the point of reference for laidback rock music the world over.

New albumCon Todo El Mundo’ draws in the listener with an absorbing 10-track journey through the sounds of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Khruangbin – which, somewhat symbolically, means ‘airplane’ in Thai – have forged their own, unmistakably global style which resonates with people from all backgrounds and age groups.

This was evident during their show at Sidecar in Barcelona – their first ever performance in Spain – where Spanish, Catalan, French and English all rose excitedly from the dancefloor, and 65-year-olds bopped gamefully among a crowd packed with twenty-somethings.

Tracks such as the more up-tempo, funk-driven ‘Evan Finds the Third Room’ inspired arguably the most raucous dance moves from the audience, while the reaction to ‘Two Fish and an Elephant’ and ‘Mr. White’ from the band’s 2015 album ‘The Universe Smiles Upon You’ brought the brightest of smiles to Lee’s glitter-covered lips.

There was a clear connection between Khruangbin and their fans in Barcelona, which was sealed early in the night when Lee took to the mic to introduce the band in Spanish. Speer injected a little light comedy, mentioning in his broad accent that the band were from Texas and that he therefore speaks ‘Texan’ only.

During the course of their 90-minute performance, the microphones on stage were largely unused. There are no prominent lyrics in most of Khruangbin’s music, allowing the listener to concentrate on the hazy, psychedelic atmosphere it provides. The vocals in Barcelona were often limited to the harmonies provided by a series of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.

That said, about half an hour into the show, the band abruptly stopped playing mid-song and Speer did make good use of the mic. “You hear that sound? This thing don’t make that sound,” he announced in his warm, Texan drawl. There was a fuzzy kind of feedback coming from the speakers, distorting the sound of his impeccably intricate guitar work. “That comes from cell phones. So please, y’all, put those suckers on airplane mode just for a minute!”

A flurry of lights then illuminated Sidecar’s cavernous dancefloor as many in the audience dutifully cut themselves off from the outside world, eager not to interfere any further with such an absorbing musical spectacle.

Within seconds, the band were playing again and bodies began to oscillate to Speer’s mesmerising melodies and Lee’s infectiously groovy bass. In tracks like ‘Como Me Quieres’ and ‘Maria Tambien’ from the new album, Johnson’s work on the drums played a more prominent role, providing a trip-hop style backdrop for his bandmates’ sing (or hum) along moments.

For this whole performance was a team effort. Three exceptionally gifted musicians with eclectic and varied taste on stage, and a diverse and enthusiastic crowd to spur them on. When the band knocked glasses to cheers the audience towards the end of the show, the shouts of ‘salud’ hinted at the birth of a friendship rooted in a mutual love for music.

Never seen Khruangbin perform live before? Check out their performance at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards in London in January 2018.

Like what you hear? Listen to more on the EL SONIDO: Spotify playlist – updated (almost) daily.

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