Khruangbin Drop Sweet Instrumental Haze Over Radio City Music Hall (SHOW REVIEW)

When this reviewer first saw Khruangbin live in 2017, co-headlining a 1,000-person venue with Chicano Batman, he might not have pegged the mostly-instrumental Texas trio as a band that would be playing sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall less than five years later. But, in a testament to both the skill of the band – in the studio and on stage – and to today’s music listeners, that is in fact where that Texas trio has ended up.

On the second of two nights at the iconic New York theater on March 10th , part of a mammoth tour behind 2020’s Mordechai, bassist Laura Lee, guitarist Mark Speer, and drummer DJ Johnson took their psychedelic funk to new heights and proved they not only can achieve this level of success but that they wear it well too.

The show was opened by Nubya Garcia, a rising star herself out of the thriving London jazz scene. Against a white curtain, the saxophonist led her band through a captivating 45-minute set, letting her instrument do most of the talking as they highlighted her 2020 album SOURCE with soaring takes on cuts like “The Message Continues” and “Pace”. Along with giving feature moments to keyboardist Jahari Stampley, bassist Daniel Casimir, and drummer Sam Jones, Garcia showed off her ample skills with a spellbinding three-minute sax solo, delivered unaccompanied at the front of the stage, leading perfectly into the moody groove of “Lost Kingdoms”. 

After a short break the lights lowered and the stage curtains opened to reveal Khruangbin’s UFO stage platforms, and before the crowd even had time to rise to their feet three snare hits from Johnson launched the trio into Con Todo El Mundo’s “Rules”. The setlist saw the band pull from across their discography, giving just as much attention, if not more, to songs from their earlier releases as they did those from Mordechai, with incendiary performances of “August Twelve” and “The Infamous Bill” and a dreamy “So We Won’t Forget” making for some of the most standout moments in the first half of the set. Khruangbin also continues to find creative ways to interpolate their deep love for music and samples into their show, not only with their usual medley of riffs (which ran the gamut from MF DOOM and Warren G to Bowie, Elton, and Chris Isaak) but also by teasing out classic melodies like Sister Nancy’s reggae staple “Bam Bam”, along with “Misirlou” and Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache”, in the midst of extended jams on “August 10” and “María También”.  

Lee and Speer appeared to relish in the ample stage room that Radio City afforded, taking turns stepping down from their platforms to strut across the edge and showing off their playing – which included some particularly charged solos from Speer that saw him dropping to his knees, much to the crowd’s excitement. Speer generally seemed more comfortable embracing the role of “guitar hero” than he has in the past, allowing himself to play bigger, with tones outside his usual wheelhouse, and finding the space within Khruangbin’s sound to really let it rip. On fan-favorite “Lady and Man”, in what might have been the show’s finest moment, the band launched into party mode (complete with two disco balls spinning above them) for the song’s groovy closing section where Speer went unleashed a funky solo for the ages, going so deep he nearly missed the song’s ending. 

They started their encore off with Speer vamping on the opening chords of Mordechai’s “First Class” from off-stage before slowly walking along with the back curtain and up to his platform where he was joined by his bandmates. From there they spun through the sweet haze of “White Gloves” and into “Time (You and I)”, featuring a push and pull jam between the tight, looping funk of Lee’s bass and Johnson’s drums against Speer’s spacey guitar on the latter. They wrapped things up with the celebratory “People Everywhere (Still Alive)”, which they gave a nightclub pulse with a riff on ‘90s techno hit “Rhythm is a Dancer” before expertly jamming their way back for a rapturous ending. Speer strummed out a few final chords as he and Lee said their thank yous and goodbyes, descending from their platforms one last time and making their way to the wings, his guitar still ringing out over the iconic hall.

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