If Only For a Moment
By Sumner Bright/ Photos By: Ben Kramer
There are very few bands that can carry the ethos of their recorded material into a live performance. Rarely when listening can we feel the same things in a concert hall that we had felt in our own spaces. Seeing the Houston, TX psychedelic-funk trio Khruangbin perform is to live, if only for a few moments, in the same atmosphere of meditation you’d find listening alone; a floating, flowing, and breathing peace - the band’s staple aesthetic that remains constant from headphones to sold-out theaters.
I’ve been a fan of this band for years, but found myself unable to recognize every song from last night’s show at the State Theatre, aside from the three standouts “August 10”, “Two Fish and an Elephant”, and “Friday Morning”. Instead, I absorbed the performance in a way that I felt was intentional on their behalf: in a haze that bounced from tranquil, to genuine fun, and back again.
To match the captivating effect of their ambient music, the trio was a spectacle themselves. With Mark Speer (guitar) and Laura Lee (bass) stage front, they occasionally synchronized movements, making their bodies and spectacular outfits become a part of their performance as well. It was a nice touch of added flavor that was delicately balanced as to not over do it. As for the drummer, DJ Johnson, he remained so firmly concentrated that at first glance one would assume that he was almost angry, or bored. Yet after keeping my eyes on him for a while, I noticed the small smiles, the moments of shy happiness that flashed across his face, paired with careful bobs of his head to the rhythms. He wasn’t flashy, but he was exactly where he wanted to be.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Khruangbin is their ability to carry songs without vocals. On their two LPs “The Universe Smiles Upon You” (2015) and “Con Todo El Mundo” (2018), there are stretches of music that have no words, but it truly doesn’t matter. Every instrument in this band has its own voice, its own lyrics, and its own poetry. That being said, when the vocals occasionally come out, it is a delightful treat. Last night, with “Friday Morning,” the simplistic and ambient vocals came out, resonating so gently and perfectly in the crowded theater. It was like being tucked in, or floating in bathwater.
The rest of the show rolled on beautifully. The air and emotion in the State Theatre was the most calm I had ever felt it.
The opening band, Kikagaku Moyo, hailing from Japan, opened the night with high-energy psychedelic rock that featured the most badass sitar solo’s I have ever seen paired with bobbing and chugging riffs reminiscent of King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard. I’m sure the next time they find themselves in Portland they will be headlining their own sold-out show.
If one thing is to be said about Khruangbin, it should be to commend their ability to create an entire world - one free of tension and fog. Their music provides clear, pure tranquility, something our own world fights for more and more. As temporary as it was, those feelings were lasting and deeply impactful. It was like swimming; to mind your breath and dive, embracing the coolness on all of your skin, and knowing, if only for a few moments, what it means to float.