Khruangbin, the Houston-based trio that sold out the Santa Barbara Bowl on the final Saturday of its 2021 season, takes its name from the Thai word for airplane. If, after listening to them, you guessed that “khruangbin” meant “reverb,” you should be forgiven. It’s an entirely understandable error.
Khruangbin have been one of the most unlikely hit touring acts of the last five years, playing to huge crowds at festivals and other outdoor mega-venues such as Red Rocks in Colorado. Their low-key, mostly instrumental jamming mixes elements of psychedelia, surf, funk, and Cambodian rock to produce a hypnotic effect that soothes and entertains in equal measures. On Saturday, November 6, guitarist Mark Speer and bassist Laura Lee showed up to the Bowl in matching black wigs, dressed up and ready to rock, while drummer Don “DJ” Johnson Jr. held the beat steady from behind a simple trap set.
Perched on three flying-saucer-shaped platforms, Khruangbin sent funky grooves spinning off into the night from a quarter past eight until just before the Bowl’s 10 o’clock curfew. Over the course of 18 songs, they sang just enough to prevent the show from being labeled all-instrumental, without ever coming on like attention-hungry rock stars. In fact, if there’s a secret to the Khruangbin sauce, it’s the quiet egos with which these three go about their gauzy, blissful business. Fan favorites included a dope medley featuring snippets of “Back in Black,” “Dazz,” and “Benny and the Jets,” followed by “Pelota,” a slinky Spanish-language original. Given the context of such horrible news earlier that day from their hometown of Houston, fans at this crowded but mellow affair were doubly blessed to be part of such a soft scene.