Concert Review: Khruangbin and Chicano Batman

Los Angeles based band Chicano Batman

In the world of music, sometimes less is more. Whether it be through the amount of members you have, or the amount of instruments you use, there are times where the sheer amount of talent is enough to capture the attention of audiences without the need for unnecessary gimmicks. Khruangbin and Chicano Batman are a great example of this, filling out Proof Rooftop Lounge this past Sunday.

Houston based band Khruangbin

Originally the show was scheduled to be at Warehouse Live by Minute Maid Park, but the World Series relocated the show to Proof Top Lounge. The show started at 8:30pm, with doors opening at 7. I arrived to the show around 7:30, a line of people wrapped around the building leading to the stairs up to Rooftop. Everyone I talked to in line was there for Chicano Batman, but little did they know of the hidden gem that’s Houston based Khruangbin.

Khruangbin consists of guitarist/vocalist Mark Speer, bassist/vocalist Laura Lee and drummer Donald Johnson. They describe their music as sounding similar to 1970’s Thai Funk, which makes since the band name is Thai for “airplane,” giving a feeling of floating in air. Their music is almost exclusively instrumental, save for some songs where Mark and Laura add simplistic lyrics to enhance the overall atmosphere of the music.

Donald Johnson and Laura Lee

Khruangbin opened up the night with the song “Dern Kala,” the 4th song off their 2015 album The Universe Smiles Upon You. The song opened up with a small drum fill leading into guitar chords that were accompanied by a groovy bassline thanks to Laura. About 3/4 of the way through their set, Khruangbin played a rendition of Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin but a G’Thang” before leading into the final stretch. Mark thanked everyone in the crowd for coming out to see them, all to a rhythmic instrumental played by Donald and Laura. He then introduced them to the crowd, each playing a solo on their respective instrument. Khruangbin ended the night in the same manner as their album, playing the song “Zionville,” but extended. The trio once more thanked the crowd for their appreciation and hyped us for Chicano Batman before ending their set.

Mark Speer and Donald Johnson

The headliner for the night couldn’t be anymore different than Khruangbin. Chicano Batman is a Los Angeles based band consisting of Bardo Martinez as the do-it-all frontman, Eduardo Arenas on bass and occasional vocals, Carlos Arevalo on lead guitar with Gabriel Villa filling out the band on drums. Their roots are a mixture of psychedelic soul, funk, merengue and everything in between. Their stage presence is also more prominent than Khruangbin, with slightly more equipment, one more guitarist/bassist and many more vocal driven songs.

Chicano Batman played a variety of songs from their newest albums Freedom is Free and Cycles of Existential Rhyme, leading off with the single “Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm).” Bardo Martinez was amazing as a frontman, capturing the audience’s attention by looking everyone in the eye while

Chicano Batman frontman Bardo Martinez and bassist Eduardo Arenas.

moving about on stage. His ability to switch between guitar, keyboard and bass guitar while maintaining high quality vocals was outstanding, even more so because you could see feel the enjoyment that was radiating from his aura. Popular tracks like “Freedom is Free,” “Cycles of Existential Rhyme,” “Black Lipstick” and “Magma” were sung by Bardo, but for me, the biggest surprise was whenever the band decided to break into their songs with Spanish lyrics.

The band broke into their first Spanish song with “El Jalepeno,” with Eduardo and Bardo switching roles, Eduardo as the singer/guitarist and Bardo as bassist. I don’t understand Spanish, but the vibe that radiated from the song carried over to the crowd flawlessly. The genuine feelings that the crowd felt from singing along to the lyrics rubbed off onto me, and these Spanish songs ended up leaving a bigger impact on me than the English ones.

Eventually the band left, but not before playing an encore performance to simmer the crowd down.

Carlos Arevalo alongside the other string instrumentalists

Once more, Chicano Batman took their positions and concluded the night with an elongated combination of “El Frio” and “El Frio II” that was capped off with much thanks from the band and a brief history on how their formation was actually inspired by a local Houston Hispanic figure.

The whole concert went above and beyond my expectations, with both Khruangbin and Chicano Batman providing a unique blend sound that could only have been appreciated in person. It was a concert that made new fans while also satisfying old ones, and added me to the list of people I’d met who plan to see Chicano Batman or Khruangbin multiple times.

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