Show Review: Khruangbin + The Mattson 2 @ The Mohawk (3.30.18)
Aside from the inevitable grooves, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Khruangbin show at Mohawk on Friday night, afterwards it became very clear. It was my first time to see the trio live and here’s my three main takeaways: 1.) Nobody is still quite sure how to pronounce the name…and just forget spelling it correctly, 2.) That 70’s inspired psych jams from Southeast Asia and the Middle East can induce a dance party in ATX for the ages, 3.) That something with roots so strikingly foreign to Texas (and even today’s stateside music scene in general) can come across as spellbindingly authentic. All that and more after the jump.
Topping the bill for the evening were fellow Texans, Khruangbin, hailing and recording in a barn just an hour and a half down US 290 from Austin, in the thriving metropolis of Burton (though they claim Houston proper). With a population +/- 300 means that 1% of the population was on stage on Friday. Coming in as one of the most intriguing and hyped bands in the past few months on the heels of their fantastic Sophomore release, Con Todo El Mundo, the sold out crowd was eager to get this party started and the buzz was palpable.
Before they hit the stage, opening the evening was the welcoming surprise of virtuoso Twin modern jazz duo The Mattson 2, comprising of brothers, Jared and Jonathan. The pair was armed with their own global influenced digital LP in tow, Vaults of Eternity: Japan, a set of covers from a multitude of Japanese sources including the electro pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Their raucous energy and unabashed self-deprecating humor paired interestingly with the improvisational jazz undertones, including “Disco Kid” a tribute to Sun Ra’s guitarist. It was high energy and both bros are obviously trained musicians; Jonathan was a force to be reckoned with on the kit and Jared wielded a multi-neck guitar laying down bass lines for days before supplying a heavy dose of mathrock-esque jazz rhythms. The Mattson Duo was an unknown quantity to this reviewer, but I look forward to seeing what else comes out of these guys in the coming years. Look into their 2017 collaboration release with Chaz from Toro Y Moi, Star Stuff to get a sense of their style. It’s pretty out there in the best possible way.
On to the headliner, Khruangbin, who emerged from a vast cloud of haze from the smoke machines turned to full blast like an apparition. The ever wondrous Laura Lee on bass stepped up in 60’s era striped dress and the entire audience of men swooned all over the emerging fashion icon. Straight into the lead single from their latest LP, Maria Tambien, the band was in full spirit and the dance party commenced. Mark Speer donning his trademark wig to match Laura’s jet black bob, the lighting obscured their faces creating a mysterious ambience. Speer’s characteristic guitar style was on point all night and he rarely took a moment off transitioning from song to song, with a short intro and limited banter as the only interludes. At this moment in time I think he’s in the running for best guitarist in the business. His style seems so effortless yet technical, exuding the perfect melodic counterbalance to Lee and DJ on bass and drums, respectively. They played most of the new album, which shares it’s inspiration from the Middle East as well as many from their debut, The Universe Smiles Upon You, which borrowed heavily from the Thai underground psych scene. On drums Donald Johnson was as steady as ever, never missing a beat and keeping an absolutely stoic expression throughout, while as per the usual, Lee and Speer stole the show, especially with their simple yet somehow sexy choreographed dips in unison. It’s the little things ya know?…
As you may know, the name of the band itself means “Engine Fly” aka Airplane, which is perfectly aligned to the genre-melding, jetsetting nature of their inspirational back catalog. Mr. White, being one of my favorite tracks on the debut was absolutely perfect. However, the award for biggest dance party goes to People Everywhere (Still Alive), which is still on repeat since Friday for me. Speaking of Friday, Friday Morning from the latest was anther highlight with it’s wispy guitar paired with airy vocals (can this just be the soundtrack to my life?). Filling in moments with some fun, Speer and Co. opened a few tracks with 90’s and 2000’s hip hop like Dre’s The Next Episode and Regulators got the crowd loose, laughing, and singing along. All in all, it was a carefree and groovy evening and everyone surely was glad they brought their dancing shoes.
Sketches drawn by your’s truly during the show and rendered post dance party. Not my best, but damn is it hard to sketch while grooving non-stop. Enjoy.