Khruangbin – Spark Arena: December 6, 2022 (Concert Review)

Khruangbin make music on the Astral Plane. In the course of ninety minutes, they travel on a seamless magic carpet ride of musical styles, touching down on many genres East and West.

Their name translates from Thai as Airplane. They have distinct roots in the Sixties. Remember Jorma Kaukonen the great multi-layered guitarist from Jefferson Airplane? They are the genuine free-flying birds again, but have ventured out further.

In 2004, Mark Speer on guitar, first met Donald DJ Johnson, drums, in a gospel band in Houston, Texas. Three years later the guitarist met Laura Lee Ochoa over a shared love of Afghan music and Middle Eastern culture. She started to learn the bass. They played together in other bands.

When the three all came together, Khruangbin was born. In a barn in Burton, Texas. They developed their style, and have produced all their records to date there. They were looking for their distinctive music.

Says Speer. Music should never be just for the sake of being experimental. You have to know what you’re experimenting with. Which means you have to be grounded in those styles and genres before you can take flight with them.

They enter the expansive stage as a minimalist trio, but immediately fill the auditorium with their sonic presence.

First Class is shimmering Seventies soul with a dominant, leading bass. They take time to build it up and expand.

Dern Kala comes out with surf tones and a western guitar twang, progressing to some wah-wah. It builds and then resolves with dub effects.

Talk is minimal, as it often is with virtuoso players. Speers acknowledges this as their debut New Zealand outing. Then lets his playing do all the talk that’s necessary until the farewell.

Kamasi Washington

One of the celebrated young jazz musicians currently making waves and gaining solid recognition is Kamasi Washington, from Los Angeles.

He has played on the bill for Snoop Dog, Herbie Hancock, Lauryn Hill and Nas. His tenor saxophone appeared on several tracks from Kendrick Lamarr’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

Has been here a few years ago and says nice things about the country.

In contrast to Khruangbin, he has a big band which fills the stage. He proceeds to lay down a killer of a show.

They start with nice sparkling melody lines which rise quickly in intensity. There are two drummers, Mike Mitchell and Tony Austin. Both play furiously at times, and are a dominant force in tandem. Washington can match them on the saxophone, which all adds up to a thrilling sound.

Names are as best as can be heard from the stage. Patrice Quinn, a smooth jazz singer with a nice husky tone, she can get quite soulful and empowering when appropriate. Bernard Coleman keyboards, Ryan Porter trombone, Ricky Washington flute and soprano saxophone and Miles Moseley double bass.

It’s a superlative set, with three stand-out songs coming at the end.

Sun Kissed Child was inspired by Washington’s baby daughter. It features solos by Moseley, who plays his bass in ways I’ve never experienced before. Uses a bow to strike the strings as well as slide on them. At times he sounds like a guitar playing in harmolodic tones. The keyboards mesh with him on wah-wah tones. Resolves it all when the singer comes back in to softly placate the sun-kissed child.

Mother Africa is melodic Nigerian pop which quickly hits a funk stride. The band doubles up on the Afro-Funk-Blast. Then Mitchell, who is described as the Present and Future by Washington, sets the stage on fire with a drum solo that has many in the crowd around me stunned and ecstatic.

Fists of Fury sounds cinematic to start. A clarion call for the great Run Run Shaw kung fu movies of the Seventies. Cult food for Tarantino, and underlined by the music moving into Sixties Western themes. The bass solos with his bow producing Dick Dale Lebanese sounds. He doesn’t stop there and comes up with some industrial screeching which could be a Bo Diddley machine guitar. Second drummer Austin fires off waves of rapid-fire artillery. Culminates in the singer full of angry passion. We will no longer ask for justice! / We will take our retribution!


The music is a continuous blend with songs running seamlessly into each other. There is minimal singing, and when it appears it still sounds like a pure instrumental group.

Whilst it is hypnotic, it is more like a dream reverie in which you are fully awake and time doesn’t really seem to pass at all until it looks like they are stating it’s their last song.

There are times when the guitar latches on to a harmolodic groove pattern of Brazilian beats.

There is a bass lead number where Lee sings in the monotone of Grace Jones doing Warm Leatherette.

Surf guitar is predominant throughout. Some Dick Dale licks, but the tone is generally more languid and molten liquid than fast double- picking. Eastern melodies dominate the middle third.

Some have labelled this as Thai rock. It may be buried in there as an influence, but I can’t hear it. Hear everything else though.

There is a medley where the great Miserlou pops up, followed by and extended workout on Apache. Told you it’s Tarantino heaven.

There’s some Stevie Wonder style disco which they work up into a Pet Shop Boys sound.

Then Latin riffs come back and they speed up the tempo with some Eighties Talking Heads tribal funk.

Finish with a second encore, A Calf Born in Winter, which is a beautiful guitar blessing of high-toned beauty. Recalls some of the style of Jerry Garcia with the Grateful Dead.

Khruangbin took us on an interstellar trip of multi-layered and deeply melodic music. You could say it flowed like a mountain river. What was most telling was that the audience seemed to be on that home on high too, well after the show ended.

Rev Orange Peel

Click on any image to view a photo gallery of Khruangbin courtesy Jackie Lee Young