Photography by Claire Dunham
By Claire Dunham, Staff Writer
When: Thursday, March 17th
Some Khruangbin fans compare the group to iconic jam bands like The Grateful Dead and Phish. Others think the group more closely resembles modern psychedelic rock artist Tame Impala. To me, the group represents a combination of the two and symbolizes a new wave of modern psychedelic jam bands. With a unique sound, vibrant stage presence, and genuine musical talent, it is no surprise that the members of Khruangbin put on an amazing show at Roadrunner on the night of Thursday, March 17th.
A “SPIRIT OF FELLOWSHIP” AT ROADRUNNER
As I entered Roadrunner, Boston’s newest music venue, I immediately felt an electric atmosphere in the air. Khruangbin is only the second musical act to perform at the newly-christened venue. Thus, for many Bostonians, this concert was their first experience there. Even though fans were unfamiliar with the space, Khruangbin quickly made it feel like home. Many fans sparked conversations with the people around them about memorable concert experiences and their favorite musicians. And during the concert, Khruangbin’s guitarist, Mark Speer, urged the audience to help create a “spirit of fellowship.” By the encore, I was singing and dancing with the concert-goers closest to me.
OPENING ACT NUBYA GARCIA DRAWS THE AUDIENCE IN WITH AN INTIMATE JAZZ PERFORMANCE
London-based saxophonist Nubya Garcia kicked off the night with an opening set of captivating modern jazz songs. She has previously collaborated with other groups like Ezra Collective and Blue Lab Beats, but on tour with Khruangbin, Garcia is able to showcase her own musical compositions. The musician was joined by bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Sam Jones. Additionally, Jahari Stampley, her keyboardist, was a crowd favorite. Stampley’s playing was particularly passionate. Even fans who were not well-versed in music theory could appreciate his quick and complex accompaniment.
KHRUANGBIN MASTER THE ART OF STAGE PRESENCE
After Nubya Garcia’s riveting performance, Khruangbin took the stage. As the curtain was drawn back, fans were in awe at the band’s stage set. Two giant disco balls hung from the ceiling, and glowing, futuristic platforms elevated the three band members. Iridescent lights danced on the stage and the disco balls revolved when the musicians started to play.
Additionally, each band member sported an eye-catching outfit. The group’s bassist Laura Lee, who is known as a fashion icon, wore a sparkling hot pink mini dress, patterned white tights, and a pair of pink velour platform heels. According to a Rosa Bloom article, Lee never wears an outfit more than once and incorporates at least one costume change into each show. She was inspired by pop legend Elton John, who typically changes into four different outfits throughout the duration of a single concert.
Khruangbin members Speer and Lee also wear wigs for live performances. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Lee disclosed that the wigs help them to create on-stage personas: "Part of the goal with the wigs was so that we could be recognizable one way on stage and then unrecognizable off stage. Even now, playing in front of 1,500 people can be terrifying. So the wigs and the stage costumes became a sort of armor.”
Although Khruangbin drummer, Donald Ray Johnson Jr. (also known as DJ), does not wear a wig, he is often seen performing in sunglasses and hats. This allows him to invent a unique on-stage persona. Ultimately, the group’s costumes added a theatrical element to the show. The Khruangbin members also performed with a campy detachment, similar to classic rock stars like Prince and Jimi Hendrix.
KHRUANGBIN’S SET WAS PROOF OF A REVIVAL OF THE MODERN JAM BAND
Not only were Khruangbin’s aesthetics stellar, but the band’s musical intelligence proved unmatched. The concert started with the mellow song “First Class,” from the band’s 2020 album Mordechai. The song features echoing vocals, a funky bass line and psychedelic guitar solos. Like many traditional jam bands, the instrumentals took precedence over the vocals, but I couldn’t help but notice the perfect pitch and blend of each Khruangbin harmony.
The setlist began to pick up as the group seamlessly transitioned into “August Twelve,” a song that highlighted Speer’s musical versatility. The guitarist possessed an impressive amount of control over his instrument’s tone, effortlessly transitioning from psychedelic sounds to a more traditional, distorted rock sound.
Another highlight from the concert was the “medley,” during which the band played a mashup of cover songs. Fans were delighted to hear MF Doom’s “Rapp Snitch Knishes” and Warren G’s “Regulate.” Lee was a standout performer during this medley, as she flawlessly replicated some of the most revered bass lines of all time. The audience happily sang along as she played the hip-hop classic “Get Money” by The Notorious B.I.G.
CLOSING OUT THE NIGHT
The encore featured “Time (You and I)” and “People Everywhere (Still Alive),” two fan favorites. Both of these Khruangbin songs are full of bright and contagious energy. By the time the encore had ended, every single audience member was dancing to the band’s funky instrumentals. Johnson’s drumbeats are what prompted many fans to start boogieing, and his mastery of rhythm was evident throughout the entire set.
Overall, Khruangbin are captivating live performers whose vibrant aesthetics and raw musical talent fully entranced the Roadrunner audience. As fans exited the venue, that same electric energy present for the beginning of the show was still there. The Bostonians felt at home with Khruangbin, and their groovy music brought an undeniable positive energy to the new venue.