In the deepest recesses of the Gillette R&D laboratories, I’m sure they have some sort of measurement unit for the smoothness of a shave. If they haven’t yet identified the pinnacle of absolute absence of friction, I’d recommend that they call it Khruangbin. You just can’t get smoother or more precise than this Texas trio. It’s been a pretty wild ride for Mark Speer, Laura Lee and DJ Johnson; just six years ago they were the opening band at The Paradise and the year before they played Great Scott. Fast forward to now – they sold out two shows at the largest indoor venue (non-sports) in Boston, the newly opened Roadrunner.
Dig covered the first show there with Billy Strings and this was my first time in the venue. It’s big, but it’s laid out very well; think of The Sinclair’s much larger sibling, with a massive floor and a wrap-around balcony similar to the Cambridge venue but obviously much larger as it can hold 3500 people. There’s a nice lounge/bar action on the second floor in the back if you want to chill with friends but can still hear the music. Seems obvious that you should see music performed in a building designed for music and not sports but it’s not really all that common and Roadrunner is filling a pretty large hole in the venue options of Boston. Case in point – the stage setup that Khruangbin used included two large circular saucer-shaped stages three or four feet above the main stage and a high drum riser in the rear, along two massive disco balls suspended from the ceiling. It’s unlikely another venue could have accommodated that.
Back to the music, Khruangbin is a self-described psychedelic funk band, a band that produced maximal sound for what looks like minimal effort. Guitarist Speer in bespoke suit and cowboys boots rips off lines without a single bead of sweat anywhere in his vicinity, and Laura Lee anchors the sound with a most effortless and supple bass, in the process doing more deep knee bends than the Austrian downhill ski team does during training. Donald “DJ” Johnson is an absolute rock at the drum kit, a beat so precise that German engineers are still marveling at how he accomplishes this and the NIST is considering using his drum beat as the calibration standard for the atomic clock.
Speer’s playing is similarly crisp but definitely more ornate, no fuzz or distortion aside from the occasional wah-wah pedal. His style swerves from noted Turkish guitar wizard Erkin Koray to occasional forays into the sub-Sahara blues of Mdou Moctar or Bombino and perhaps just a bit of obscure Indonesian band AKA, plus a sprinkling or two from Thai guitar players that even Sublime Frequencies has yet to discover. Early songs such as “Dern Kala” and “August Twelve” had almost a calypso groove, with a hot sun kept at bay by a wide-brimmed hat and an icy piña colada in hand.
One of the real skills Khruangbin has is how they construct, arrange and play their long medley, like a live-action karaoke sampling machine where they pull together memorable riffs of pop, disco, and hip-hop tracks into a seamless sonic weave. Tonight had changed up most of the medley content from the 2018 show I covered for Dig aside from the Warren G, ODB and A Tribe Called Quest bits, with three nods to the late MF Doom, Elton John, 7os disco one hit wonders Brick, NWA alum Ice Cube and Dr Dre with Spandau Ballet and Chris Isaak in as curve balls. Quite the impressive display. This two day stand was a total success for the band and a lot of people are looking forward to their return.
Nubya Garcia plays saxophone and leads a pretty crack band, a group that looks like they are having a lot of fun on stage making some well-crafted and melodious jazz. I caught a few of their songs at Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky festival held earlier and tonight she would play a commanding role in getting their particular message out to the people. While solid, I’d prefer a little jaggedness or wild-eyed free passages tossed in here or there, but as a match for Khruangbin it was right on target.
Primarily based in Boston, Massachusetts, Tim Bugbee is no stranger to traveling throughout the country or overseas to capture the best live music photos.