Chicano Batman Bring Their Intangible “Feel” to Austin
There are a handful of music styles that seem to require more from a musician, beyond technical ability, in order to sound good. Genres such as blues, soul, and funk necessitate an intangible feel for the music that can not be taught, instead having to come innately from the musicians themselves. The presence of this “feel” permeates the music and makes the music significantly more compelling. The history of the genres I mentioned is littered with artists who understood and utilized this principle. A pair of bands who too understand and demonstrate “feel” in their music are Chicano Batman and Khruangbin. We were on hand as they both played Emo’s in Austin on October 28th.
Khruangbin, the Houston-based soul funk trio, performed after the first opener Shacks. The group pulled primarily from their only full length album, 2015’s The Universe Smiles Upon You. With a somewhat limited discography to choose from, the band covered a series of songs from artists such as James Brown and Kool and The Gang in the middle of their set. The group primarily played laid back, downtempo funk, but were not afraid to lace their set with a couple more upbeat cuts. The limited vocals of their songs also gave their set a more atmospheric vibe. While the trio may not be as energetic as other funk bands, that does not mean they have any less swagger. This is particularly true for guitarist Mark Speer, who has charisma reminiscent of past funk frontmen.
Soon after Chicano Batman took the stage in their famed matching ruffled tuxedos. Accompanied by two backing vocalists/musicians, they opened with the quick switching funk/soul hybrid of “Angel Child”. The quartet primarily pulled from their new LP, Freedom is Free, released earlier this year, with the singles “Freedom is Free” and “Friendship (Is A Small Ship In A Storm)” along with deeper tracks like “La Jura” on the setlist. Several songs from their second album, Cycles of Existential Rhyme, were also included, such as the title track and “Magma.” However, it was surprising that only one song, “Itotiani”, was included from their self-titled debut album, especially considering their set was close to an hour and a half long.
The quartet were as cohesive as when we saw them earlier this year at SXSW. Drummer Gabriel Villa and bassist Eduardo Arenas provide the tight groove upon which guitarist Carlos Arévalo’s melodic flourishes (and sometimes blistering solo) and vocalist/organist Bardo Martinez’s sleek croons and piecing organ lines operate. The band are approaching a decade playing together, and the kind of rapport that only comes with time is clearly evident in their performances. Each member appears to be truly in their element playing with one another and has the instinctive feel for the music discussed above. This phenomena is truly extraordinary to witness and is what separates average bands from the great ones.
Chicano Batman have continually refined their art, evidenced in hearing the growth as songwriters from their early songs to their latest releases. The band are clearly indebted to a host of bands that came before them, but have now carved out their own sound that is distinctly their own.