featuring the Shacks and Khruangbin
October 7, 2017 @ Paradise Rock Club
By: Robert Kerstens and Andrew Goldberg
For most of Khruangbin’s set, the only visuals were twirling projections of the saturated water-color sky from the cover for their debut album The Universe Smiles Upon You. The album was recorded in a barn in a rural area of the band’s home state of Texas. The trio retained the lofty comfort of that barn onstage, their expansive sound evoking the enlightened wonder of stargazing on a clear Texas night. Their incense-stick blend of Thai funk, soul, surf rock, and cowboy music made the Paradise reek from the heady late night vibes of the 70’s. Mark Spear’s guitar curled and warped like a paisley tie blowing in the wind, fluttering over Laura Lee’s moonlit bass and DJ the drummer’s crisp beats.
Khruangbin set the mood by opening with the first three songs off The Universe Smiles Upon You. The album was featured heavily throughout, with a taste of future releases sprinkled in between. Most songs were entirely instrumental other than the occasional hushed coo, with the notable exception of a cameo from the organ player and singer of the Shacks to enrich the atmosphere on the mournful ‘Balls and Pins’. The backdrop provided by Lee and DJ played fairly close to the record, providing a starry canvas for Speer’s virtuosic noodling.
Despite his wiltering improvisations, Speer never lost control, maintaining a cool composure and mysterious aura behind his long black bangs. He wore his Texas swagger on his sleeve, rocking a decadent suit and cowboy boot combo and drawling like a late-night radio personality. At the end of the set, he launched into an extended monologue about getting to know your neighbor and buying them something from the merch table in what could have been a Matthew McConaughey Lincoln commercial.
When you hear Chicano Batman play live, there is an undeniable energy – a shaking and consuming feeling that only arises in the midst of something special. It only makes sense that de facto frontman Bardo Martinez is a former high school English teacher, given the fact that he and the rest of the band put on a clinic every time they grace the stage. Blasting right out of the gate with “Angel Child”, the immediacy of Chicano Batman’s deep rooted influences, in tropicalia as much as soul, came to life. The funk-infused, yet stoic guitar work of Carlos Arévalo appeared bright in the mix, as “Cycles of Existential Rhyme”, and “Flecha al Sol” featured a chemistry that can’t be reduced to logic.
While Martinez’s vocals smile and warm from above, the unique quality of Chicano Batman comes from effortless exchanges between Spanish and English. The baffling quality of this interplay, regardless of language, seemed universally understood–a message that certainly communicated its importance both during the show and in their newest release’s title, 2017’s Freedom Is Free. The band’s multidimensional rigor featured heavily in “La Manzanita”, where Eduardo Arenas traded in his bass for guitar to display his own set of pipes as drummer and chief rhythmic auteur Gabriel Villa held down the house. Chicano Batman functions as an almost separate identity from each of its members, where the amalgamation of talent and passion becomes fluid in demeanor, atmosphere, and expression– all with immense gratitude and thanks.
Though there was seemingly no easy way to end this evening of enlightenment, the encore revealed a layer of true showmanship that few contemporary acts keep. With enthusiasm bursting at the seam for the impending encore, a round of “La Jura” began to unfold in front of the mostly uninitiated crowd (save for one, whose occasional pleas for performance had finally been answered). After quick introduction and admittance that the band had gotten ahead of themselves, there was an unsurmountable stretch of tension and release for each countdown. As the show began to trend towards a 2am cap, “Magma” broke out to round out the setlist and night.
What went down at Paradise Rock Club will most likely be categorized as a Boston cultural highlight for the year. With spiraling and crashing intensity for the better part of 2 hours, Chicano Batman broke any and all music barriers – crafty solos, tasty bass licks, wild and crunchy organ tones, and of course, cowbell features. The only regret would be that of the B-line man who wanted to know if “that Chicano Batman guy” was any good. I assure you, my friend, that is the baseline accolade.