Reno found its groove Sunday night when Cargo Concert Hall hosted a stellar three-bill lineup of Chicano Batman, Khruangbin and The Shacks.
When you have that many bands sharing the stage, it’s not often easy to find a unifying vibe to tie them all together into one, cohesive musical experience. That makes Sunday’s show even more satisfying, as the bands dished out three potent dosages of ’70s-inspired psychedelia that each brought their own unique set of pleasures and peaks.
The night’s trip started out nice and mellow with the easy grooves of The Shacks. The quartet hails from New York City, though you’d be forgiven if you thought they had just driven up from Santa Barbara in a Westfalia with all of their laid-back grooves and beachside vibe. The spongy guitar lines and gentle rhythms complemented singer Shannon Wise’s whispered vocals well, creating a soft, waking dream aura around the songs. The band sometimes veered into drowsy territory, but they could usually snap out of it with some fuzzy bounce from the guitar, like on the hazy, pop highlight “Orchids.” Concise and breezy, the set ended much noisier than it began with a relatively thunderous wash of reverb and drums from The Shacks that prompted an appreciative send-off from the crowd.
Khruangbin was next and the trio proceeded to take Cargo on a jet-setting, funky journey that was a supreme delight for any sonic aficionado. The group has been on a near-constant tour cycle since the release of its debut album in 2015, “A Universe Smiles Upon You,” and it used the album’s standout “August Twelve” as a blast-off point into the stars. The song’s three parts gave a beautiful overview of some of the different musical hues Khruangbin would touch upon, from chilled, zesty funk to heady, in-the-pocket rock to cosmic lullabies, all done with a mystifying, cool confidence from guitarist Mark Speer, bassist Laura Lee and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson.
The first thing that stood out was the band’s impeccable, otherworldly tone. Speer’s Fender Stratocaster had such a gorgeous and angelic voice, with a clarity that could transcend galaxies. Lee’s bass was robust but sharp and Johnson’s drums had a subtle crack to them that carried through the music like the snaps of a nighttime campfire over glassy water. It all swirled together like strands of sonic stardust to create a saturated, lush atmosphere that billowed over the multitude of smiling faces in front of them.
That tone was accompanied by some truly fantastic playing from Khruangbin. Speer’s hands flew over his guitar with the exacting speed and dexterity of a hummingbird, flitting flowery flourishes from his instrument with vivacious grace on songs like “Mr. White” and “The Infamous Bill.” Lee and Johnson had similar command of their instruments, with Lee buoyant and sturdy in the calming “White Gloves” and Johnson displaying a craftsman’s touch for the drums during his anti-drum solo, where he laid down a Clyde Stubblefield-worthy beat ready for immediate sampling.
The group’s international flavors were also fluid and refreshing. Khruangbin’s palette included the Thai-infused “Two Fish and an Elephant,” Iranian-inspired “Maria Tambien,” a cover of Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Firecracker,” and the explosive “People Everywhere (Still Alive),” born from the disco and soul of America. Khruangbin had such a worldly suave Sunday night you couldn’t take your ears or eyes off of them, like some chique, mysterious traveler who enraptured you at a party in the Hollywood hills with their exotic stories from around the globe. Khruangbin’s set only reinforced the fact they are one of the most seductive and unique bands releasing music right now.
Capping the night was another band whose stylings are fairly unique and specific to what they do, Los Angeles’ Chicano Batman. Decked out in matching, dapper, maroon suits, the group strolled out onstage to rapturous applause. Chicano Batman quickly delved into its trademark slice of tropicali life. They buzzed into “Angel Child” with enthusiastic abandon, stringing together the humming bassline, fuzzed guitar and warbly keyboards like colorful lanterns hanging over a sunset garden party in Southern California.
Frontman Bardo Martinez was a dynamic butterfly throughout the set, floating between the mic, keyboards and the fans as freely as the band floated through different headspaces. With impressive smoothness, the band was hitting on L.A. funk, oldies Latin pop and street corner soul, with spritzes of tropicali rhythms and grooves glistening in a psychedelic sheen. Martinez’s earnestness in his lyrics and delivery mixed with the cycling moods of songs that could turn on a dime between fizzy and sedative gave Chicano Batman’s whole set a surreal, daydream quality that kept the crowd dazed and engaged.
Earworms were constantly slipping into your consciousness, from the ecstatic guitar flurry on “Cycles of Existential Rhyme” to the head-bobbing ecstasy of the keyboard melody in “Black Lipstick.” Chicano Batman’s talents are expansive and creative with songs that detail Martinez and company’s soulful ruminations on life like fantastical sonic collages.
Sunday night was a grand showcase of some of the best new bands mining the sounds of the 1960s and 1970s and using those musical minerals to create new, psychedelic compounds. These glowing new entities are only beginning to show their brilliance and with a little time and care, they should be emanating colors not yet known to our ears.