Khruangbin are a Texas band. But, not in the sense of what I, a recent transplant, immediately think of when Texas music is brought up — artists with a certain smoky twang like ZZ Top, Gary Clark Jr., or Willie Nelson.
No, Khruangbin's sound defies stereotypes and resists genre categorization. It’s just as much music for endless hours of seclusion in a bedroom while studying for finals (me last week) as it is the soundtrack for late night driving through a desert with the endless starry sky above.
It’s exactly this alluring dichotomy that draws such an avid audience to their shows, and the sold-out gig at Emo’s on Friday night was no exception. From set opener “Cómo Me Quieres” through the encore and dimming of the disco ball, the crowd remained thoroughly entranced, basking in the sonic bath created by the Houston trio. Guitarist Mark Speer’s mesmerizing playing draws upon a wide range of influences and is complemented and built upon perfectly by Lisa Lee’s melodic bass lines, while drummer Donald Ray “DJ” Johnson Jr. keeps the group absolutely locked into each song’s unique groove. The three-piece outfit is somehow far more than the sum of its parts.
During their set, “Lady and Man” and “White Gloves” stood out as true crowd pleasers with audience members singing along with Lee to the catchy lyrics of the former. The band performed songs from both The Universe Smiles Upon You (2015) and this year’s Con Todo El Mundo. Not limiting themselves to their own repertoire, the band played a medley of 90s hip hop hits, including Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money,” The Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache (Jump On It),” and Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It.”
However, the true highlight for this fan was the band’s performance of “Evan Finds the Third Room.” Speer nailed the funky chord progression perfectly in sync with Johnson’s impeccable drumming. Lee even showcased her acting chops, picking up a lime-green prop telephone for the tune’s phone recording interlude.
I thought my only criticism of the show was going to be that they didn’t play their cover of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here.”
Just as my friend and I joked that maybe by chance they would play it during the encore, we heard those all too familiar notes. And with that, Khruangbin had us in the holiday spirit, reminding this New Yorker that it was in fact December, regardless of what the thermometer might be reading.
The only disappointment was that the show had to end. As we filed out, it was obvious everyone was in agreement – this was a top show of 2018 for everyone in attendance, and we would be looking to repeat it with Khruangbin in 2019. So, cheers to an excellent holiday season and a happy new year. May we all find the third room.