Khruangbin, Red Butte Garden, September 23, 2021
By Tiffany Mull
If you feel jaded with modern music, I strongly suggest you take in some Khruangbin. This utterly refreshing trio has their own sound, artfully fusing styles as disparate as psychedelic rock and vintage funk. Mark Speer explores Middle Eastern music scales and experiments with reverb, much like Dick Dale (who pioneered surf rock). Multi-instrumentalist Donald “DJ” Johnson plays drums and Laura Lee is on bass.
Khruangbin opened with the smooth and soothing “Friday Morning,” followed by the slightly more upbeat, yet still calming “So We Won’t Forget.” Each musician had their own circular platform suspended above the stage. Speer and Lee occasionally descended the stairs to slowly roam the stage, up close to the audience, thick, black wigs firmly on skulls.
“Red Butte, how y’all doing this evening? Y’all are all here in the garden, and what a lovely garden this is, ya’ll are just a bunch of beautiful, beautiful flowers. And ferns. And succulents. Some evergreens. Just a wonderful cornucopia of colors, all kinds. With roots grounded in the earth.” Mark Speer’s brief monologue was in line with his guitar playing: improvised stream of consciousness. The band played “August 10th,” a jazzy, twilight number.
Khruangbin is well-versed in global music and intentionally eclectic in their style. Each song is an exploration, often iterating, ornamenting, and evolving a central melodic theme. Most of their music is instrumental. Any vocals that are included are only incidental to the music. When present, they are ancillary, percussive, and background. The main interest is Speer’s guitar in contrast with the bass and drums. “Maria También” was filled with addictive Middle-Eastern riffs with Laura only occasionally whispering “Maria” in the mic.
“Lady and Man” live was dazzling. The recorded version is low-key and somewhat repetitive. Live, Speer riffed endlessly, delivering one solo after another. At one point, he rapidly struck and bent the sixth string à la Kenny Loggins on “Foot Loose” before tuning the string down and playing it overhand before retuning it. It was fascinating, and I wish more of this play were present in the recorded version. It was impossible not to get caught up in the beat and rhythm of “Evan Finds the Third Room,” “Time,” and “Pelota.”
The band’s stage presence is serene and understated. They aren’t trying to show off. They don’t need to. The showiest they got was calmly pacing the stage and each other’s platforms with their cordless guitars. They occasionally bent their knees and swayed. It’s all about the music. Khruangbin treated the audience to a dazzling twenty-minute encore, song after enthralling song. Nearly all audience members were either swaying or dancing the entire set. If you ever have a chance to see Khruangbin live, don’t miss it.