Thai funk, jazz-inspired surf fill Rex Theatre

Courtesy of Joey Mueser Who: Khruangbin and Mattson 2 Where: Rex Theatre Date of Review: April 6, 2018
Courtesy of Joey Mueser
Who: Khruangbin and Mattson 2
Where: Rex Theatre
Date of Review: April 6, 2018

By Joey Mueser | Staff Writer


The Rex Theatre on East Carson Street holds a pretty decent crowd, but a sold out show last Friday with a great lineup packed it to the brim. By the end of the night, the atmosphere was just like a hot yoga studio: sweaty and full of positive energy.

But before the sweat broke, The Mattson 2, the opening band comprised of identical twin brothers based in San Diego, took it upon themselves to cut loose.  The duo has been publishing music since 2009 and is still taking the modern-day surf rock scene by storm.  Its LP from 2011, Feeling Hands, combines elements of classic lo-fi beach rock with a jazz backdrop.

In their live renditions of studio recordings, Jonathan Mattson, the drummer for the group, and Jared Mattson, the guitarist, extrapolated on three minute tracks – cleverly soloing and inspiring dance respectively. Jared impressed the audience, rarely missing a beat and staying in key during all of his fast-paced solos.

But a jazz, surf-rock duo has to get old after a few songs, right? After opening the set with a double necked guitar and playing around with a loop pedal, surely the answer to this question would be no. Having a double necked guitar was a seemingly perfect touch for the duo.  Jared used the bass of the guitar to craft a canvas while he used the six strings on the upper half to paint the picture he wanted in each song.

But melodies are nothing without a strong backbone, which was certainly provided from Jonathan, who laid down grooves effortlessly for his brother.

A rhythm section can make or break a band, and it certainly made The Mattson 2 a must-see group.

Speaking of, Texas-based trio Khruangbin (whose name literally translates to “Engine Fly” in Thai) also performed a wonderful set. The rhythm section for the group was held steady by the fitting drum work of Donald Johnson Jr., or DJ, who has been the group’s drummer since its formation. But one of the defining features of the band lies in the hands of the talented Laura Lee.  Laying down bass lines that can be both heard and felt, she plays the bass with a calm, yet smooth, feeling. This rhythm duo, although maybe not the biggest in size, conveys everything it needs to stylistically without being excessive. Lee and DJ truly make the engine that make Khruangbin fly.

In no way should my high praises of the rhythm section upstage the guitarist of Khruangbin. With the other band members laying down the groove, Mark Speer’s fingers danced up and down the fretboard for the entirety of the set. Each track the group played had its own personality and its own tale to tell, and Speer was a master storyteller with his Stratocaster.

The group’s first LP, The Universe Smiles Upon You, was very well received — and not only because of its name. The album, inspired by Thailand funk, took on the music scene with an unprecedented genre. As a predominantly instrumental group, the band still hits a broad variety of styles while maintaining their fitting sound. On the album, tracks like “People Everywhere (Still Alive)” are more fast paced, while they still retain the ability to slow things down with a personal favorite of mine, “Zionsville” — arguably the perfect finale to a terrific debut record.

After touring the U.S. twice and doing a European tour, it was back to the drawing board for Khruangbin, this time releasing Con Todo El Mundo, their sophomore full length album, in January of 2018.  Now touring with another terrific album behind them, the group looks to continue to inspire good feeling as they work their way around the US once again.

The textures Speer portrays on the guitar and Lee’s bass fitting right in the pocket of each groove set up by DJ on the kit, are the perfect combination for dancing.  Despite the band’s calm stage presence, its music energized most of a sold-out crowd to bust a move.  In its live show, Khruangbin proved (yet again) its ability to deliver a stellar show and entirely captivate its audience in the group’s one-of-a-kind style.