Texan Thai-funk trio Khruangbin have sold-out Manchester. An hour prior to the show, fans on Facebook are still hoping to find last-minute tickets; for those lucky enough to have one, their enthusiasm and excitement is evident in the block-length queue that surrounds Albert Hall. Those who have gone alone have bumped into friends who have also gone solo, bonding at this new common interest. All in all, what happens outside the venue is indicative of the night overall – overwhelming love and community.
Named after the Thai word for ‘airplane’, Khruangbin’s music is equally as niche; their unique aesthetic and worldly musical influences have garnered the band a dedicated following. Having supported Father John Misty in 2016, two years later the band are now back with their own headline tour. The etymology of this group is also equally as interesting; drummer Donald ‘DJ’ Johnson and guitarist Mark Speer began their musical relationship at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, the same church that saw Beyoncé’s musical beginnings. Bassist Laura Lee was then added to the mix, after a colleague living with Speer at the time invited Lee round and then befriended Speer over a documentary on Afghani music. For the next three years, the trio would jam over their love of music and burgers, gaining inspiration for their name through Speer’s interest in sixties and seventies Thai-funk and Luk-Thung.
Despite the mass turnout, the venue feels far from overcrowded. The Albert Hall’s overhead pews allow for the spectator’s choice of atmosphere – the heartfelt immersion of the crowd or equally warm yet chilled seating. However, the benefits of the upstairs pews mean unobscured views of the stage, which for this show was certainly appreciated, as Khruangbin are full of nuances. Their entrance is subtle yet with an air of quiet confidence; Lee and Speer are respectively donning a well-tailored black suit and eye-catching red dress, as well as their signature wigs (apologies to anyone who thought they were real). Whilst Johnson is wig-less, he sports an equally unforgettable Aztec-inspired poncho vest. The trio take their positions, exchange brief a nod, and begin playing like they’ve done many times before.
Performing is second nature to Khruangbin. Speer’s technical and musical giftings as a guitarist are indisputable, flitting between funky riffs and complexly-improvised finger-picking. Johnson’s temporal time-keeping is equally as polished, not missing a beat whilst metrically modulating with ease. Lee, despite only having played bass for eight years, matches Speer and Johnson not only in technicality but showmanship, keeping the groove with playful hip-dips in platform stilettos. Musically, the band’s latest project, ‘Con Todo El Mundo’, pulls influences more so from the Middle-East, carefully making sure the instrumentals remain centre- stage over the accompaniment of the vocals. Yet, what transcends this trio beyond the sonic plane is their spiritual bond that keeps them so in-tune with one another, listening closely to make sure they are always in-sync.
The show is full of old and new favourites; ‘Dern Kala’ is performed with tongue-’n’-cheek, both Speer and Lee performing choreographed hip-sways. ‘Evan Finds the Third Room’ sees the Albert Hall turned into a disco , with Lee answering a green dial-up telephone during the spoken break-down. Mellower, sentimental tunes such as ‘August 10’ and ‘Cómo Te Quiero’ exhuberate chill and emotion, with the latter based on a question Lee’s Mexican-grandfather would ask her (‘How much do you love me?’). ‘Shades of Man’ is intertwined with playful mash-ups, featuring the likes of Drake, The Sugarhill Gang and Bobby Caldwell, which sees the crowd’s musical knowledge amusingly tested. Khruangbin are also no strangers to working a crowd; Lee addresses the crowd for a story, telling an endearing anecdote about misusing the term ‘thick’ during a previous Manchester show, attempting to play off her error by pretending to say ‘fit’. To consolidate her moment, Lee yells ‘Manchester, you are fit as f*ck!’, the room cheering in appreciation.
The band wraps up their set with ‘Friday Morning’, arguably the trio’s most intelligent work to date. The three transition fluidly back and forth between melodies and complex time-signatures, the reverb-infused vocals adding to the song’s dream-like entity. The band bid the crowd goodnight, with full-on knowledge that an encore is inevitable. Five minutes of unbridled anticipation pass, and Johnson makes his way back to the kit to engineer a beat; Lee shortly follows in a costume-change, glowing in a red sequinned jumpsuit. Speer re-emerges last, and the trio commence crowd-favourite ‘People Everywhere (Still Alive)’. Once again, Albert Hall is turned into a disco palace, not a person sat down in sight.