Some words are harder to make stick than others. ‘Sorrowful’ plagued me when I portrayed the Messenger in my high school production of Antigone for some reason. Togolese footballer Emmanuel Adebayor’s last name took me rigorous study to be able to pronounce without pause. And lately, I’ve had to keep Googling how to pronounce Houston-based, multiethnic-spiced soul-funk trio, Khruangbin. Luckily, their smooth (in a good and not in a soprano saxophone jazz solo way) grooves do not take a more advanced lingual mind than mine to appreciate. While mostly instrumental, there are no other words necessary to pick up what Khruangbin puts down. Perhaps it’s best they let the music speak most, deciding which language to use would prove a chore. Khruangbin’s worldly influences aren’t just derived from their Thai name. Middle Eastern scales, Jamaican dub’s building repetition and a dash or more of good ol’ American jazz and early psychedelia also feature to make this interesting and entirely enjoyable and accessible (your parents would probably love them too) melange the right music for many moods.
Supporting their 2018 album, Con Todo El Mundo, Khruangbin is wrapping up the North American portion of the tour in a few days. The new year takes them throughout Europe, Australia and Japan. With over 100 shows played by the end of the year, they returned to Toronto for the third time (almost fourth in the calendar year) on Nov. 30 with a sold-out stop at the Danforth. Coming out with a strut, the band launched into fave, Bin Bin before moving through several numbers from their latest and 2016’s The Universe Smiles Upon You. One of the highlights of this year’s Khruangbin shows is the late set, mostly hip-hop medley. This tour, cover songs played as only this trio can included Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, Sade’s Sweetest Taboo, Warren G’s Regulate, as well as instrumentalizations of ODB, Tribe Called Quest and Dr. Dre. All in one gently meandering, supremely fun medley.
Khruangbin is a band of obvious style and substance. While the trio dresses to impress, the hirsute members of the band wear their bangs down low, putting their eyes in shadow. Drummer (and church organist) Donald ‘DJ’ Johnson sports a clean-shaven head and rarely moves any part of his body above his elbows. Bassist Laura Lee slinked across the stage, laying down tight soulful bass, while guitarist Mark Speer, with an uncanny way of playing and weaving chords and solos blended it all sweetly. Adding substance to the band’s style, the set ended with Maria También, whose video linked here is a brilliant depiction of Iranian women freely performing song and dance on television prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution. Further establishing this band’s style, Lee made a costume change into a glorious red dress for the encore, which included a soulful rendition of Vince Guaraldi’s seasonally appropriate, Christmas Time is Here setting the feel like it was being played a mile up high in the penthouse clouds of the world’s swankiest lounge. With a little luck and after some rest, hopefully the band will return in 2019 to play a bit more for us.
Catch Khruangbin at one of their upcoming shows and buy their latest album here.