When Khruangbin first fell across my radar I was plagued with wonder: their name was perplexing, sound was perplexing, and quietly established fan base perhaps the most perplexing of all.
Questions continued to surface as they entered The Tivoli Theatre stage (16 March) in Brisbane; both the guitarist and bassist grew hair so dark it put the night sky to shame: long, shiny and void of all light, eyes curtained by blunt fringes.
The trio began with 2014 EP title track, ‘The Infamous Bill’. It almost felt strange, the ingrained expectancy of vocals to signify the ‘start’ of the song, though Mark Speer's twinkling guitar solo swiftly eradicated the absence of singing. He picked up a gin bottle – makeshift percussion – tapping it with a drumstick.
“What’s up, Brisbane?” he asked his onlookers, hundreds screaming in wordless response. ‘August Twelve’ lapped at our feet, like a tide swirling slow and steady, the guitar and bass both perfectly proportionate, equal parts establishing the melody.
The opener of new album ‘Con Todo El Mundo’ was laced with sinister undertones – ‘Como Me Quieres’ felt post rock-influenced, transporting me to the desert. Though as my head wandered with the visual of dirt road, motorbike, isolated petrol station, Khruangbin reversed the set list, performing the record’s closing ‘Friday Morning’.
The release’s rapidly changing time signature made it tricky to establish a sway; first slowly shifting from side to side, soon hips swinging, back to slow, back to swing.
‘Dern Kala’ from ‘The Universe Smiles Upon You’ was recognised instantly, the tune almost composed like a novel: introduction, conflict, resolution.
“Brisbane, how are you going tonight?” Mark asked. “I’ve got to say – it’s a joy to be here. This is our last show in Australia. And already, you’ve been the top crowd of the tour.”
He continued as the audience gushed. “You know what, introduce yourself to the person next to you. Say hello, get to know them. You have to have something in common – you’re both from Brisneyland, after all.” Quite the sight, watching as strangers beside strangers became acquaintances besides acquaintances, shaking hands, exchanging names.
Khruangbin broke the greetings with the whimsical ‘August 10’, crowd chanting its sole lyrics: “Na na na, na na na na na!”
I was only partly present as they played ‘Mr White’; my body grounded at the gig, but my mind at a jazz bar, nestled cosily in a velvet chair and sipping a glass of whiskey. Mirroring my thoughts Mark swigged his drink, prolonging the start of ‘Two Fish And An Elephant’; a marvel, so vigorously hummed by fans, despite the lack of words.
‘Lady And Man’ painted the vivid picture of a Spanish marketplace; sentiments shifted with ‘Evan Finds The Third Room’, their first funk-driven addition. As per the recording (still pleasantly surprising), a ringing pieced the room; bassist Laura Lee answered a vintage phone, cooing “Hello?” theatrically.
More pleasantly surprising – the subsequent medley of '90s hip hop classics. Think A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, J Dilla, brilliantly reproduced by the three musicians.
“Thank you, Brisbane, you guys have been fantastic. Take care of yourselves,” Mark farewelled. Their exit triggered the loudest, most ear-splitting encore I have ever witnessed.
Khruangbin were stubborn, they kept the crowd waiting, fans became increasingly intense. Drummer Donald Johnson eventually entered, cleverly mimicking the tune of the audience’s coos on keyboard.
A drawn-out drum solo built fierce anticipation, imploding when the remaining members returned. Laura donned a costume change – once feathers, now sparkles – they dived into the fast-paced ‘Maria Tambien’.
Thumping bass steered 2014 release, ‘The Number 4’; Mark’s vocals debuted in the dreamy ‘White Gloves’. The band closed the set with ‘People Everywhere (Still Alive)’, the room now bustling with movement, completely vibrating.
I never realised Khruangbin were from Texas; though now, it seems blatantly clear. Although their music is undeniably broad, the stereotypical backdrop of a solitary cactus perched in a barren landscape is one setting which, while listening, almost always springs to mind.
Even still, their songs have an incredible ability of transporting you across the Earth – even through time. No lyrics, though not lacking, the instrumentals simply allow the listener to write their own narrative.
Not as simple as it sounds – wordless tracks can have a tendency of slipping into background music territory. These songs, alternatively, are so superbly composed, they’d never merely contribute to the ambience, they create it.
The instrumental skillset of all three band members is breathtaking, producing such profoundly moving music without the saviour of pretty words to add emotional depth.
In seeing Khruangbin perform live I had hoped to gain some clarity, but am in fact even more beset with genuine bewilderment.
This article was originally published in Scenestr and republished with permission.