Emos, as a popular music venue in Austin, is no stranger to hosting sold out shows. However, there are shows that happen to sell all available tickets and then there are ‘Sold Out’ shows – the latter possessing an amplified energy that gives the audience a collective feeling of witnessing something special. On Friday, the Houston-based trio, Khruangbin, brought that unique communal vibe to Emos. Their hyopnotic set elevated the crowd’s consciousness through their mostly instrumental, Thai-inspired, surf rock.
Khruangbin began making music in 2010 after guitarist Mark Speer invited his fellow church band member, Donald Johnson, to play drums with him and his other friend/bassist, Laura Lee. Drawing inspiration from old 60’s Thai funk cassette tapes, the trio released their debut album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, in 2015. Now on tour in support of their second album, Con Todo El Mundo, the trio is finding success in a style of music that could only be described as the inverse of commercial, cookie-cutter, Top 40 tracks.
Sporting wigs that give them a 60’s Southeast Asian aesthetic, Laura Lee and Mark Speer, assumed the stage with a magnetic presence that proved to be as entrancing as their music. Opening with tracks “Bin Bin”, “The Infamous Bill” and “August Twelve”, the setlist seemed to be perfectly choreographed to build and crescendo with deft precision. Zeniths found in the fluid and seamless jam were, “Two Fish and An Elephant” and “Evan Finds The Third Room”, which offered some rare vocal cameos in the mostly instrumental set.
While both Khruangbin albums were represented equally during the show, it was their covers that elicited the strongest reactions. Tipping his hat to his Houston roots, Mark inserted audial Easter eggs of Geto Boy’s riffs throughout their set. Yet the hip-hop appreciation would come to a head when they unleashed a galvanizing medley of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, A Tribe Called Quest, Warren G, Sade, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Chris Isaak (oddly enough) tracks.
The subtle gyrations of both Mark and Laura, combined with intricate lighting and expert drumming – gave the trio an undeniable appeal. Khraungbin rolled into their encore performance, which would include “Number 4”, “White Gloves” and a holiday-inspired rendition of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here”.
We live in an age where social media has forced many artists to twist and contort themselves into ad-friendly spectacles, that solely exist to hold viewers’ attention, Khraungbin’s modus operandi is evidence of another way. The trio has faith in their songwriting and exudes an uplifting aura and mellow ambience around them which slowly percolates into their audience’s psyche. The end result is a pure meditation on the nuances of Khraungbin’s music and contentment that both the listener and musician can hopefully share in.