Review: Khruangbin Doesn’t Need Words to Sell Out the Vic

Khruangbin isn’t a band that puts out singles. They don’t have a singer. Most of their songs can’t be distinguished from each other. They are hardly any words to sing along to across their two full-length albums. And yet, a three-piece has never sounded so full or so captivating. The Houston, Texas trio blends so many influences and genres that describing their sound to a friend feels like answering a riddle. They also sold out at The Vic Theatre with their brand of instrumental, soulful psychedelia, where they entranced eyes and ears for over an hour. Khruangbin (which translates to “aeroplane” in Thai) offers a trance in their live shows and on their studio records. The band sets moods across several songs instead of writing pop hits (making them a popular band for indulging in vices, legal and otherwise, and other nightly pleasures). In a live setting, they add flairs of performance and improvisation in either suits or Sun Ra attire. Guitarist Mark Speer made his guitar wail throughout the night, even detuning his lower E string while soloing in this middle of a song, making a drone that tugged the audience along for the ride. Other highlights included drummer Donald Johnson playing an upright piano for a quiet, intimate rendition of “White Gloves” and when the band took one of their only breaks on stage that night to drink malort. At the same time, Khruangbin can veer too far into self-indulgent territory in their concerts. While this can make for an enjoyable 45 minutes at an outdoor festival, it can be a lot for over an hour and a half in an indoor venue. On their studio records, each member has an integral role who play succinct parts that move a song forward, but in a live setting the band too often seemed to be a vehicle for Speer’s guitar solos and theatrics. Still, it’s a rare treat to see a band that strikes a balance with technical musicianship, a captivating live experience, and an original sound. Khruangbin invites you to enter their lysergic third room — and you should stay (at least until they forget you're in their company).
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Colin Smith

Colin Smith thinks that Chicago right now is the place to be for music. He works for Illinois Humanities, is a freelance writer, and plays psychedelic-pop songs with his band.