Khruangbin Leave Them Smiling at The Bowery Ballroom on Friday

September 12th, 2016

Khruangbin – The Bowery Ballroom – September 9, 2016

Why am I still smiling, you ask? Yes, still grinning since Friday night, but that’s just the kind of mood that Khruangbin put you in. Not worrying too much about how you pronounce it, the sold-out crowd at The Bowery Ballroom was too busy dancing and beaming to the trio’s uniquely laid-back funk. Friday was only their second New York City gig, but the trio—Mark Speer on guitar, Laura Lee on bass and Donald Johnson on drums—further proved why they are on a funkified upward trajectory, without losing the intimate living-room groove of their sound.

The show largely drew from their breakthrough album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, recreating its stripped-down sound on songs like the early-set “Mr. White.” The lighting color palette was centered strongly on pinks, a perfect boudoir hue for Khruangbin’s less-is-more funk. The threesome locked into grooves that felt like the bare minimum to be legally called “groovy,” as if they had taken the legendary rhythms and riffs of the Meters, James Brown and their beloved Thai funk and reduced them to their distilled essence. As evidenced Friday night, Khruangbin have figured out a way to build on this foundation without losing the underlying ethos. Speer filled every nook and cranny in the rhythms with just-below-boiling guitar work, an engaging tone with just enough bite, making the chilling-on-the-couch-with-your-lover funk work for a sold-out Bowery, no problem.

The banter was equal to the mood—a story about a song called “The Recital That Never Happened” was more or less what you’d expect from the song title, but all the more entertaining for it. A mid-set medley seemingly drew inspiration as well as riffs and rhythms from funk songs, recognizable and deep-cut. Mostly each piece felt right, like you wanted them to just keep going, get forever lost in Lee’s irresistible basslines, time perpetually kept by the funky tock of Johnson’s snare. Often there would be a temptation to add to something like this, an organ or a horn section, a second guitar player, but they’ve been able to resist thus far. Anything more would make Khruangbin not quite Khruangbin, which might just be enough to wipe this smile off my face. —A. Stein | @Neddyo