Khruangbin – Rough Trade NYC – March 15, 2016
“The ’60s” are an all-too-common reference for music that continues to persist even now, 50 years later. “This sounds like music from the ’60s” can mean just about anything. But watching Khruangbin play last night at Rough Trade NYC with the old school liquid-light display from Drippy Eye Projections bubbling behind them, I truly felt like I had been transported to a time when “free love” was a way of life and people said things like “groovy, baby!” Because if Khruangbin are anything, they’re incredibly groovy.
Tuesday night’s show was Khruangbin’s NYC debut, and they explained from the outset that it was one of their bigger U.S. shows to date. If they were nervous, the giddy, sold-out crowd made them feel at home right away as they worked their way through much of last year’s debut album, The Universe Smiles Upon You. Laura Lee’s bass and Mark Speer’s guitar were entwined in a musical romance on songs like “Mr. White,” laying down minimalist instrumental funk with flirtatious melodies and a slow-grind low end. Like his bandmates, Donald Johnson subscribed to a less-is-more style of drumming, settling into a groove and just letting things develop at their own pace. That pace was, by and large, very groovy and very sexy. Dressed in Day-Glo pants and moving as one with her bass playing, Lee blended right in with the undulating colors on the screen behind her.
Midway through the set, Khruangbin strayed from the album material, slowly morphing into a modern-day Meters, Speer’s floral guitar tone gaining a greasy-funk edge to it and finding some room to explore and offering a glimpse at the band’s exciting future potential. But mostly they stuck to their signature boogie-lubricant sound, as addictive for their beautiful restraint as for their deep, unflappable funk. Each song seemed to earn a louder applause from the crowd until Khruangbin ran out of material to play (“We just make this up in the studio … and then we have to learn it again”), but somehow found “one more” to close out the show—and then another for an audience-demanded encore: a Latin-spy-surf jam with rapid-fire guitar riffs while Lee and Johnson kept that characteristic make-love-not-war groove going. It was a heck of a coming out party for Khruangbin and their truly timeless music. —A. Stein | @Neddyo