Written for Epigram
Just over a year and a half since their last show in the city, and over two since they made their English debut here in Bristol, Texan Thai-funk trio Khruangbin made a triumphant return, taking over SWX last-minute with the sudden closure of Bristol Bierkeller.
I was unhappy when I found out the venue had been changed; SWX is less intimate, and it regurgitates memories of cheesy Fresher events – not to mention I was saddened by yet another venue closure. But when I arrived, I was shocked to see how busy it was, given that the show’s extra 350 tickets only went on sale hours before. Maybe the upgrade was necessary – even if it did accompany the news of another cultural clampdown – I begrudgingly conceded to myself.
Following their support act, The Shacks, the lights shut off, and Khruangbin entered the stage in their familiar triangular formation – drummer DJ situated at the back of Speer (guitar) and Lee (bass), both obscured by their thick black fringes. Soaked in oceanic light, the trio kicked off their set with a tune from their new album Con Todo El Mundo, a record released at the end of January.
Khruangbin is a group who have curated their international music influences into rich, fine-tuned amalgamations of smooth and contemplative sound. Surely enough, what strikes me first is the sound quality. It’s record-perfect – arguably even crisper than the records themselves in parts. But it’s clear that this ability to so tightly relay their releases is only achieved via a collective instrumental control and understated confidence. While DJ attends to gentle but paradoxically distinct hi-hat accents, Lee and Speer master intricate melodies, sassily grooving along to the undercurrent of audience-delight, swaying almost removed from the complexity of their activity.
Soon, the set moves to a more familiar territory for the audience, with their debut sounds from The Universe Smiles Upon You. Focusing first on the relaxed, cheery depths of the record, like ‘Mr. White’ and ‘Dern Kala,’ Khruangbin show their music’s capacity to shift in effect. From their 2015 releases to this years’, the trio’s tunes have carried an infectious ability to relax the isolated listener; to subtly coerce reflection and a deeper appreciation of simplistic sound. But With live performance – held by the stage presence of Lee and Speer – Khruangbin’s intimate sound unpacks and revolutionises. Hushed progressions are enhanced with a lengthened focus on twanging, funk-infected guitar slides, and beats evolve into unthreatening severity, each disciplined with an impressive grip on altering volume levels. Despite what I had originally understood about Khruangbin’s aim – that their sound endeavoured to live out an exclusively reflective motive – the performance revealed how their music could be just as energetic, sexy and fun as it is inductive of complete absorption.
As the set progresses, Speer makes well-timed comments to the audience, and as with any musician in the know about Bristol’s scene, he says hello to Jeff – reliably dancing at the audience’s front. Towards the end of the set, it’s fitting how the snug feel of Khruangbin’s emotionally-driven songs capture the adoration of the audience besides the band’s ingrained relationship with the city, with ‘Zionsville’ enacting a warmth to the shows near end.
After an overwhelming demand for an encore, Khruangbin join the stage for one more tune: an extended version of ‘People Everywhere (Still Alive),’ to push an unexpected burst of movement in the audience; a release from the cultivated tranquillity of the show. The one-tune return was refreshing and well-formed. Once more, the trio consolidates their music’s versatility, merging tinges of Latin-pop over the chorus between a dance-inspired bridge with a stripped back, muted reflection of the main riff and a duller beat. Although their show felt like it ended all too quickly, with their strong fan-base here and across the U.K., we shan’t have to wait long for the return of these Texans.