Concert Reviews

With Help From Leon Bridges, Khruangbin Took a Sonic Odyssey in Dallas

Houston band Khruangbin sold out their Friday night show in Deep Ellum, for good reason.
Houston band Khruangbin sold out their Friday night show in Deep Ellum, for good reason. Mike Brooks
Last things first: Yes, Leon Bridges showed up.

The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter walked onto the Factory in Deep Ellum stage Friday night to ecstatic roars, making certain what had been widely rumored beforehand — that he’d be making an appearance alongside Khruangbin to perform a few of their collaborations (a Khruangbridges sighting, to borrow a popular social media portmanteau).

During the encore, Fort Worth and Houston joined forces for two songs, running through “Chocolate Hills,” a track from their forthcoming Texas Moon EP and the title track from 2020’s Texas Sun EP. Bridges’ honeyed vocals laid easily across the elastic, exquisite sounds conjured by Khruangbin, whetting the appetite for an entire evening of such cross-pollination.

As Bridges waved to the audience and departed, guitarist Mark Speer said what many in the room were likely thinking: “It sounds so good when he sings.” Speer adjusted his instrument, and the trio eased into “Time (You and I),” once again taking the sold-out room for a sonic ride unlike much else emanating from the Lone Star State.
click to enlarge Khruangbin really loves performing. - MIKE BROOKS
Khruangbin really loves performing.
Mike Brooks

Speer, along with his bandmates, bassist Laura Lee and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson, spent roughly 90 minutes Friday taking the audience on an odyssey befitting the band’s exotic name, pronounced krung-bin and which translates to “flying engine” or “airplane” in Thai. The destination is secondary to the journey, which Lee, Speer and Johnson have embarked upon with aplomb for the better part of the last decade.

The trio, making its first local stop since an appearance at 2019’s Fortress Festival in Fort Worth, is touring behind its third studio album and most recent release, 2020’s Mordechai. (The band oversaw an album of Mordechai Remixes as well, which dropped in August.)
click to enlarge Donald "DJ" Johnson, was the backbone to a sonic odyssey on Friday. - MIKE BROOKS
Donald "DJ" Johnson, was the backbone to a sonic odyssey on Friday.
Mike Brooks

Khruangbin is also winding down its time on the road with a series of Texas shows to close out the year, which Speer, who did the bulk of the evening’s talking, noted up front: “It’s so nice to be back in the Lone Star State,” he said, as “Friday Morning,” the opening song, faded away. “You can’t imagine my joy stepping out into the mild Texas winter.”

Attempting any sort of succinct description of precisely what Khruangbin sounds like becomes secondary to describing what it feels like to see them perform. The band excels at crafting and sustaining a mood to which you can’t help but succumb. Musically, it’s a gumbo of funk and soul and disco and Latin pop and jazz and rock and psychedelia, stirred and stretched and spilled in all manner of fascinating directions. Highlights included “Summer Madness,” an electrifying “Lady and Man,” “Pelota” and a riveting “So We Won’t Forget.”
click to enlarge Laura Lee was ethereal as ever at Khruangbin's Friday night show in Deep Ellum. - MIKE BROOKS
Laura Lee was ethereal as ever at Khruangbin's Friday night show in Deep Ellum.
Mike Brooks

Situated atop three enormous platforms, which resembled the lower halves of mid-century modern-styled spacecraft, the musicians were surrounded by light, whether blaring spots ricocheting off mammoth disco balls, or pin-prick glittering, arrayed across a curtain draping the back of the stage. The cumulative effect often felt like floating — Khruangbin’s mastery of hypnotic grooves, the sound and sensation of three distinct instruments locked together yet dancing around one another is intoxicating.
click to enlarge Khruangin singer/bassist Laura Lee at the band's Factory show in Dallas. - MIKE BROOKS
Khruangin singer/bassist Laura Lee at the band's Factory show in Dallas.
Mike Brooks

The vocals, often shared by Lee and Speer, tend to hover in the background, an ethereal, luminous counterpoint to the funky, earthy interplay between guitar, drums and bass. Lee and Speer moved easily around the stage Friday, making the cavernous room feel more intimate as they dueled, together and apart.

The tempo quickened or slowed on a dime, pulling the ecstatic audience along with it, eliciting cheers when Khruangbin launched into beloved tracks like “White Gloves,” or effortlessly instrumentally quoted Elton John, the Shadows, AC/DC, and Dick Dale in the span of a few minutes.

It made for an evening of beauty most often appreciated fully on headphones being blown up to fill a mid-size venue without sacrificing any of its intricacy or allure. The appearance of Leon Bridges may have been a late pop of adrenaline, but the prevailing feeling as the attendees spilled back out into the unseasonably warm winter night seemed to be one of a more mellow, lingering high.
click to enlarge Khruangbin's Mark Speer proved the destination is less importat than the journey at the band's spacey Dallas show. - MIKE BROOKS
Khruangbin's Mark Speer proved the destination is less importat than the journey at the band's spacey Dallas show.
Mike Brooks
click to enlarge Lee got close to fans at the Deep show on Friday, - MIKE BROOKS
Lee got close to fans at the Deep show on Friday,
Mike Brooks
click to enlarge Houston and Fort Worth powers joined in Dallas when Leon Bridges performed with Khruangbin. - MIKE BROOKS
Houston and Fort Worth powers joined in Dallas when Leon Bridges performed with Khruangbin.
Mike Brooks
click to enlarge Leon Bridges joined Khruanbin for an encore on Friday night at the Factory. - MIKE BROOKS
Leon Bridges joined Khruanbin for an encore on Friday night at the Factory.
Mike Brooks
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Preston Jones is a Dallas-based writer who spent a decade as the pop music critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors honored his work three times, including a 2017 first place award for comment and criticism (Class AAAA). His writing has also appeared in the New York Observer, The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Central Track, Oklahoma Today and Slant Magazine.
Contact: Preston Jones