No place in the world seemed holier Saturday than the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, where Houston psychedelic trio Khruangbin sermonized on the first of two sold-out nights at the venue. The band’s performance was an hour-and-a-half nomadic musical passage from the vintage influences of what was through the futuristic sounds of what might come to be.
Khruangbin’s groovy and mind-expanding style incorporates an array of cultural influences ranging from East Asia and Iran to Latin America and India — and so far, and so forth.
San Antonio was the second-to-last destination on Khruangbin’s U.S. tour before a closing New Year’s Eve show in its hometown of Houston. The group spent 2021 touring its third album, Mordechai, and recently announced a second collaborative album with R&B singer Leon Bridges titled Texas Moon.
The band began Saturday’s ceremonial service with the pure and pristine sounds of the song “Como Me Quieres.” Each member stood on an individual platform resembling a silver flying saucer, while two giant disco balls reflected blazing beams of myriad colors. The lights synchronized to the ornate melodies anointing the audience with holy sounds.
What made the performance especially memorable was how each song incorporated new improvisational elements that extended them for several minutes beyond their album versions. Like the recorded versions, the live interpretations didn’t rely on any special lyrical content other than soft vocals that are only incidental to the music. Those served to add slight texture to the loveliness of Laura Lee’s bass work, Mark Speer’s guitar solos and pedal work, and Donald “DJ” Johnson Jr.’s subtle drumbeats, which cascaded, rolled and splashed through the venue.
The band’s onstage banter was also sparse. Only five songs in did Speer mentioned how grateful the band was to return to their home state of Texas, adding that San Antonio has the best tamales in the world. Besides their final bow and thank yous, that was all any of the members said the entire night.
During the set, Khruangbin also weaved together a series of bite-sized covers ranging from MF Doom’s “Rapp Snitch Knishes'' to AC/DC’s “Back In Black'' to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.” Each rendition celebrated the best moments in music history and honored Khruangbin’s influences while maintaining the band’s own ad-libbed approach to each track.
The first portion of the show ended with “Maria Tambien,” where improvisation reigned queen thanks to the recited, redemptive whispers of the word “Maria.” After an outfit change, the members returned for a nearly 30-minute encore. Lee appeared wearing a pink sequined jumpsuit that shimmered with rays, while Speer stepped up onto his platform in light-reactive cowboy boots. It was then, during a hyper-extended version of “Time (You and I),” that one could fully delve into Khruangbin’s bandwidths of sound and experience the full spectrum of musical colors that comprise its soulful embrace of life.
Beyond the colorful costumes, mod wigs and beautiful stage production, what makes this trio truly grandiose is the feelings its melodies evoke. Although the Tobin Center isn’t a place where one typically seeks righteousness, atonement or God, Khruangbin gave their audience a safe space to cast aside worries, dance and find heaven.
Photo and article from SA Current; Alejandra Sol Casas.