Khruangbin & Kamasi Washington
6th December 2022
Spark Arena, Auckland, New Zealand.
Review by Henry Appleyard. Photography by Jackie Lee Young.
Words are going to struggle here. High rising trio Khruangbin performed the last show of their ‘First Class World Tour’ last night in Tāmaki Makaurau with support from Kamasi Washington.
On a drizzly evening, passing a wave of Spark merch and staff at 6.30pm, we ambled to Spark Arena amongst the friendly hustle and bustle of Auckland’s funkiest finest. Bursting colours filled the grey lot with flared trousers, stunning corduroy, neon sunnies and floral dresses. A barely half-full arena saw the jazz legend Kamasi Washington and friends cruise on stage just past 7pm.
Bang! Double drum kits come crashing in alongside an all star lineup of jazz masters spearheaded by the man himself. Not wasting a breath, they envelope the crowd in the spirit of jazz. Jazz that crashes into the body, the senses overridden by an expertly layered bombardment of instrumental prowess. Hands begin to reach for the air, sweat permeates and the audience embraces the sound. ‘Street Fighter Mas’ comes punching in before playing trombone player Ryan Porter’s ‘Kings and Queens’ from his new ‘Resilience’ album (and film) – a beautiful horn led song reminiscent of Art Farmer. Kamasi points out “one of my favourite things to do, is to share new music” before introducing us to more compositions. Next level solos from Miles Mosley on bass, Tony Austin on drums and rest of band – all of which we don’t have column space to name here. Please go see them live to check them out in person.
After giving us a moment to catch our breath, Khruangbin come gliding on to stage with the track ‘First Class’. The effortless sultry sound we have come to love bounds through the now stuffed arena. Cheers and smiles break out across the audience instantly mesmerised by the psychedelic unit. Cutting straight into ‘August Twelve’, the trio signal the increasing pace of the set to follow, with a light show perfectly synced to every crash hit, guitar lick and bass pluck. Disco balls loom above the band whose now famous fashion sense strikingly intertwines with their music – the photos do the talking.
The intro to ‘August 10’ sees guitarist Mark Spear invite all of us in the audience to introduce ourselves to the person next to us before shouting out their name. The venue screams with the sound of its new mates’ names before being brought into the tracks uplifting tone. “It’s beautiful” is affirmed by Spear as he and bassist Laura Lee begin their orbit around drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson, reaching out to every corner with sonic bliss, filling every nook and cranny with that warm, fuzzy feeling. Much laughter and love is in the air. Bodies start to sway in unison, bending and diving to that spatial soundscape beginning to encapsulate us. It sounded great – props to the team at Spark and their fancy mixing consoles.
Moving along what seems like a taste of their whole repertoire, ‘So We Won’t Forget’ is followed by the more upbeat ‘Evan Finds the Third Room’, telling us it’s time to dance. The disco balls drop to the tunes funky stature, shooting out glistening gold and red lights that sparkled across the venue. The temperature was rising. Sways break into full on body pops as we all harmonise to the tracks infectiously catchy vocal lines.
If seamlessly jumping through their own repertoire wasn’t enough, we were then treated to an insane medley of covers cutting in and out like a full-on DJ mix. ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ flies into ‘Genius of Love’, breaking to ‘Simon Says’, then ‘Regulate’, ‘Nothin’ but a G Thang’, ‘Got Your Money’, ‘Electric Relaxation’ before cutting into ‘Summer Madness’, much to the delight of the crowd. Spears virtuosity with the guitar really shines here, showing us the true range of the instrument. His addiction to reverb and his relatively minimalist rig – high tones swoop up the fretboard with foot on wah while those low distorted tones keep rumbling through – all make for a guitarist’s utopia of tone.
After raising a shot of what must be tequila, ‘Maria También’ comes slamming in with even more energy than from the album. We are well cooked by this point. Screams bellow from all corners as dancers find their bodies needing more space on the floor. Flailing arms and legs jut and twist to the tracks eclectic rhythm section and spangly melodic drive. Almost like paying homage to its inspiration, the trio then break suddenly to renditions of ‘Misirlou’ and ‘Apache.’ An amen of cascading delay signals they’re leaving while smoke forebodes the encore.
With an outfit change from Laura Lee, now all dressed in black, ‘She was a Queen’ starts to ring out from the track ‘White Gloves’. A heavier version of ‘Time (You and I)’ kicks off another round of dancing before the group then lay us to rest with ‘Calf Born In Winter’ – a truly bittersweet moment for this flying engines last set of their hugely successful First Class tour. We hope to see you again, soon!
Were you there at Spark Arena for this magnificent genre-bending gig? Or have you seen Khruangbin or Kamasi Washington perform live somewhere else? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Note: Ambient Light was provided passes to review this concert. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product using an affiliate link, Ambient Light will automatically receive a small commission at no cost to you.
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