Emo’s, as a popular music venue in Austin, is no stranger to hosting sold out shows. However, there are shows that happen to sell all available tickets and then there are ‘Sold Out’ shows – the latter possessing a distinct amplified energy that gives all those present a collective feeling of witnessing something special. This past Friday, December 14, the Houston-based trio Khruangbin brought that unique ‘Sold Out’ vibe to Emo’s and elevated the crowd’s consciousness through their mostly instrumental, Thai-inspired, surf rock.
Khruangbin began making music in 2010 after guitarist Mark Speer invited his fellow church band member, Donald Johnson, to drum with him and his other friend/bassist, Laura Lee. Drawing inspiration from old 60’s Thai funk cassette tapes, the trio released their debut album, The Universe Smiles Upon You, in 2015 and gained a wider audience while opening for Father John Misty on a 2016 tour. Now on tour in support of their second album, Con Todo El Mundo, the trio is finding success in a style of music that could only be described as the inverse of commercial, cookie-cutter, Top 40 tracks.
Sporting wigs that give them a 60’s Southeast Asian aesthetic, Laura Lee and Mark Speer, assumed the stage with a magnetic presence that proved to be as hypnotizing as their music. Opening with tracks “Bin Bin”, “The Infamous Bill” and “August Twelve”, the set list seemed to be perfectly choreographed to build and crescendo with deft precision. Some of the epochs found in the fluid and seamless jam, were “Two Fish and An Elephant” and “Evan Finds The Third Room” which also offered some rare vocals in the mostly instrumental set.
While both Khruangbin albums were represented equally during their show, it was their covers that elicited the strongest reactions. Tipping his hat to his Houston roots, Mark inserted Easter eggs of Geto Boy’s riffs throughout their set, but the hip-hop appreciation would come to a head when they unleashed a galvanizing medley of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, A Tribe Called Quest, Warren G, Sade, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Chris Isaak (oddly enough) tracks.
The subtle gyrations of both Mark and Laura combined with intricate lighting and a mellowed ambience to give the trio such undeniable appeal that many performers would break their backs manufacturing gimmicks to achieve. Khraungbin rolled into their encore performance, which would include songs “Number 4”, “White Gloves” and even a holiday-inspired rendition of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here”.
Living in a time where social media has forced many artists to twist and contort themselves into ad-friendly spectacles that solely exist to hold the viewers’ attention, Khraungbin’s modus operandi is evidence of another way. The trio has faith in their songwriting and exudes an uplifting aura around them, which ultimately percolates into the psyche of their adoring fans. The end result is a pure meditation on the nuances of Khraungbin’s music and the collective happiness that both listener and musician can share in.