We witnessed the spacey and sultry three-piece Khruangbin in Camden’s Roundhouse for their biggest UK headline show to date.
From late-night psych jams in a barn in the small town of Burton, Texas, to universally-acclaimed records and worldwide headline tours, Khruangbin have across their jet-setting journey collected and cultivated a rich mix of followers, though many of them still stumble when it comes to pronouncing their name. The trio’s appellation translates to ‘aeroplane’ (well, technically ‘engine fly’) in Thai, a nod to their keen interest in the country’s vast well of 60s funk and their interest in world music cultures in general.
Largely instrumental with occasional spacey, sassy and even sultry vocals, their sound winningly captures head-nodding funk with a delicate ease with enough weight and character to avoid drifting away into the kind of background sound that much music of that ilk can fall victim to. Arguably crucial to their sound is the analogue and roomy production of their 2015 debut full-length The Universe Smiles Upon You and its 2018 follow-up Con Todo El Mundo, which elegantly scapes the crisp drums of Donald Jonson, the rhythmically punchy bass from Laura Lee and the stoned shreds of Mark Speer.
Unfortunately it’s a sound that, initially at least, struggled to translate inside the boomy dome of Camden’s Roundhouse for their sell-out London show last Wednesday. It is noticeable immediately as they begin on the James Brown-esque funk of b-side ‘Bin Bin’, and more so after on ‘The Infamous Bill’, the drums sounding annoyingly flat, like being played on a Fishers Price kit and providing none of the clout to Jonson’s breakbeat style. It’s less of a nuisance in the quieter, spacier moments, as on the lush ‘Friday Morning’, which is so charming any pedantic frustrations from a critic can be thankfully be forgotten.
Given that ‘Friday Morning’ sounds like a slowed-down, therapeutic version of The Isley Brother’s ‘Footsteps In The Dark’ (and consequently Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day”), it’s a delight to hear the band play the instrumental later on in the evening as they blend it into a medley with the likes of Warren G’s ‘Regulate’, Kool & The Gang’s ‘Madness’ and Snoop Dogg’s ‘Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang’. A headline set-filler maybe, but it’s fun and reveals some of the rhythmic influence beyond Speer’s characteristically wobbly Thai guitar sounds. His musicianship is astounding though, seemingly playing two riffs at once, as in ‘Maria También’ and closing ‘People Everywhere (Still Alive)’.
The most touching moments are the quietest, though. For the encore a piano is revealed, upon which after entering the stage alone Jonson plays the chords of ‘White Gloves’ as a single beam of white light drowns him in silhouette. Its shimmering lullaby effect is increased as Lee and Speer quietly join and drift dreamily into the gospel-like ‘Como Te Quiero’. Ironically it’s a song that was inspired by Lee whilst living in London, a conversation in her own head as a result of passing-by Londoners unwilling to engage in conversation. Though it may have taken some time, this time – their biggest UK headline show – London was certainly listening.
Photo: Kevin Cole