Abigail Lee ’25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Houston trio Khruangbin is known for being unerringly sleek and cool, the fusions across their three studio albums evoking the warmth of the Texas landscape. At Boston’s Roadrunner, the psychedelic rock band proved why the atmospheric nature of their sound continues to be so alluring.
Khruangbin’s show on March 17 was only the second concert to be held in Boston’s newest venue, Roadrunner. “We’re christening it tonight,” Guitarist Mark Speer said at one point. The minimalist but open space emphasized the melodically rich, lyrically sparse expansiveness the band has honed. But, before Khruangbin took the stage, it was opener Nubya Garcia who set the vibrant tone for the night.
The London jazz saxophonist Nubya Garcia and her band— made up of drummer Sam Jones, keyboardist Jahari Stampley, and bassist Daniel Casimir— brought an immediate vitality to the stage. Garcia’s 2020 debut album Source came alive under low blue and purple lights, with the band’s soaring sound filling the venue. Garcia’s presence was one of passionate enthusiasm as she moved in rhythm and played off the energy of each of her band members. The interplay between Garcia and her band created a sense of exploration. It was almost as if her deft, bold, and lyrical solos rose out of the moods of the present moment.
Garcia closed with the album’s opener “Pace,” which she said was about the “hustle and bustle of modern life.” That description was an acute one, as Garcia encapsulated the kineticism of our lives and what it means to be living through a constant barrage while searching for clarity. The undulations of the present were represented by quick, shifting melodies and restless rhythms that eventually gave way into moments of retrospection. Garcia’s last notes were resonant, almost melancholic cries.
The unveiling of the set got an appreciative whoop from the audience. There were two elevated silver platforms with disco balls hanging above each, and Speer and bassist Laura Lee strolled across this set in leisurely synchronization. Drummer Donald Ray Johnson Jr. occupied a third platform in the back middle of the stage as a steady, metronomic anchor. From the first steps Speer and Lee took on the platforms, it was evident that the suaveness of the band’s discography extended to their image and style. Speer and Lee moved across the stage as mirrored reflections of one another; when one went to the left, the other went right at the exact same calculated pace. Kaleidoscopic lighting soon lit up the entire venue.
Khruangbin opened with the more understated “First Class” to welcome the audience into a balmy, mysterious mood. They then went into “August Twelve” and “The Number 3,” which are two distortion-heavy pieces. The setlist amply represented the band’s discography, with songs pulled from each album. A highlight was “Pelota,” which is from their 2020 album Mordechai. Another show-stopper came from their album Con Tondo El Mundo, as the band performed “Evan Finds the Third Room.” During this performance, the sharpness of Lee’s vocals was on full display– giving the song a fiery undertone.
Just like the set, the band’s stage presence was one of a precisely retro aesthetic. Speer and Lee wore their classic black wigs while Johnson sported sunglasses. Lee had on a hot pink dress with fur trim sleeves, white tights, and platform heels. Speer wore a black suit that seemed metallic in the lighting, with a patterned red shirt underneath. Johnson had a shawl draped around his shoulders and a black fedora. The outfits emphasized the stylish but relaxed approach the band takes toward its music. Khruangbin’s discography can be described as a kind of vibe-y fusion, a confluence of psychedelic guitar and global sounds— most notably Thai funk. Even with such exquisite aestheticism, it seems doubtful that they ever break a sweat.
The band also played an extended medley of classic songs like “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John and “Get Money” by The Notorious B.I.G. This part of the show garnered a lot of enthusiasm from the audience who sang and danced along. The root of Khruangbin’s appeal seems to be the diversity of sounds and influences prevalent within their music, granting listeners the ability to hear sounds from around the world. That night the sentiment held true: Khruangbin’s unique trait is how it repurposes different sounds until they cohere into the band’s particular style. Here, the classic songs were stitched together in a way that allowed the band to add their own touch.
One particularly arresting moment of the night was when Speer and Lee casually swayed beneath red and orange lights, lowering themselves to the ground until they were both crouching with one leg extended. Only Khruangbin could make something practiced seem so natural. Later in the night, I saw a man with his hands raised like he was at church, as golden yellow light swallowed him whole. Seeing Khruangbin can be a religious experience, but you end up worshiping an aesthetic more than anything. Maybe that’s exactly what the band wants it to be.