As far as bands go, I’m into the soft side of rock and its offshoots.
Well, Black Milk put me onto them. And I was blown away. How could a band of three musicians make such incredible multi-cultural music without appropriating? They say there’s a thin line between appropriation and appreciation and Khruangbin stay on the good side of that open border.
In 2018, the band performed at Villain in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for Pitchfork Live. The set comprised of 11 songs from their first two albums, The Universe Smiles Upon You and Con Todo El Mundo and lasted 52 minutes. As an audiovisual experience, it was breathtaking. You know those live performances that sound good, they make the album version sound inferior? That’s exactly what this was.
And I kept watching it. Over and over. It got to the point where I had to download the audio and listen to get a fix. As of today, 29th April 2020, I’ve probably listened to it over 150 times. It never gets old and one of the healthiest obsessions I’ve ever had. (In fact, I’m watching it right now!)
But that’s just my perspective. I like to inject a form of objectivity with my subjectivity so I decided to list the reasons why Khruangbin @ Villain is the best live performance.
1. The arrangement is tight as hell
When the arrangement clicks, everything flows like water in a zen garden. And Khruangbin are the masters of tight orchestration. But, paradoxically, they stay so fluid. They’ve refused to be pigeonholed by genre and I think that’s a good thing because nothing they play is specific to any one style. It’s a salad bowl of music.
But that salad tastes damn good and it’s down to each band member individually and together.
2. DJ on drums is the epitome of “in the pocket”
There are no dramatics and no stick tossing. The fills are purposeful and not performative. Some people prefer the theatrics and high energy. But the beauty of DJ’s play is how tight and “in the pocket” it is.
The rhythm of Khruangbin is down to him. You can set your watch by him and forget that time exists all at the same time. He shows love for the drums in his own way and I don’t give a damn if he doesn’t scrunch his face or scream through beads of sweat. That’s not what this is about.
3. Mark makes guitar playing look effortless
One of the coolest guitarists I’ve ever seen play. His demeanour is effortlessly understated but his style is rich and multifaceted. He’s said in many interviews how music from Africa and Asia have influenced his different techniques and you can hear a range of them in the live performance. Khruangbin are beyond genre classification but many critics have settled on “Thai funk”, given the origins of their name (“khruangbin” means “airplane” in Thai). You can definitely hear the Thai-style as well as elements of Vietnam, China, and Malaysia but there are also hear some vibes from African countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo.
4. Laura on bass is rich, soulful, and organic
Sometimes you need heavy funk with slap bass and other times you need a simply-formed bass line to cruise you through a song. Laura Lee is the queen of the latter although if I ever heard her do a wild slap bass solo, I know for certain she’d blow everyone away. I find myself torn between which section to follow in the songs from this performance as they’re all so good but keep Laura’s for when I need to relax.
5. The visuals fit the music like nothing else
Described as a “transformable event space in the heart of Williamsburg”, Villain is home to a live production team with 15,000 sqft of floor space which is a grand canvas to paint on, so to speak. Props go out to the team for putting this all together, with the lava lamp aesthetics and smoky visuals, all projected in the background.
6. The acoustics are perfect
I wish I could make my tracks sound this good. It’s a struggle to get the acoustics right in a live indoor setting. I’ve been to plenty of gigs where everything’s been too loud or too bassy. On TV talent shows, they always sound tinny and echoey and it ruins the vocals (if the singer is any good).
But at Villain, the reverb and the effects are on point. Mark’s array of pedals push the boundaries just enough to captivate and the resonance on DJ’s drums is gorgeous. If you close your eyes, you wouldn’t guess this was in a small room. Shout out to Ash Slater (producer), Juan Pieczanski (assistant sound engineer), and Garrett Weinholtz (technical director) and everyone else in the credits.
7. Dem wigs
In case you didn’t know, that’s not their Mark and Laura’s real hair. I’ve seen their real hair but the wigs seem more normal somehow. It’s all part of the mystique and the style of Khruangbin.
But personally, I think DJ’s wig is the wildest.