Manhattan Beat: Khruangbin, Perry Farrell, The End of America, Tatiana DeMaria

Khruangbin/Rumsey Playfield/June 20, 2019

Mark Speer and Donald “DJ” Johnson Jr. met in 2004 while playing in a gospel band in Houston, Texas; their church employed Speer as the guitarist and Johnson as the organist. In 2007, Speer met Laura Lee and bonded over a shared love of Afghan music and Middle Eastern architecture. In 2009, Speer taught Lee to play the bass and, in 2010, they toured with Yppah and Bonobo with Lee on bass and Speer on guitar. Determined to create new experimental music, Speer and Lee developed their bass-heavy, psychedelic sound in a barn in Burton, Texas. Upon their return to Houston, they asked DJ to join the band as their drummer to play simple break-beats under the guitar and bass. When asked to play their first gig, Lee, who was learning to speak Thai at the time, decided they should make their name her favorite Thai word: “khruangbin” (เครื่องบิน), which means “flying engine” or “airplane.” Khruangbin’s 2015 debut album drew from 1960s Thai music, while their sophomore release in 2018 drew inspiration from music from Spain and the Middle East. Khruangbin will release its third album, Hasta el Cielo, on July 12, 2019. Speer, Lee, and DJ also host AirKhruang radio shows on NTS Radio and Facebook Live.

Kruangbin headlined a Summerstage concert at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park and the occasional heavy rain did not hinder the dancing shoes of the audience mesmerized by the hypnotic music. World beats swirled as Speer’s guitar emulated Lee’s hard, funky bass riffs and then spun into reverb-soaked surf sounds. As with many jam bands, the casual listener was unable to predict where the music was going and often found that it was not going anywhere, but instead was locked simply into a heavy groove. Mostly instrumental, the low-fi indie sound hinged on the rhythm section’s firm blueprints and Speer’s improvised spacey guitar licks. Khruangbin is a completely original rock band and at the moment quite unique, but sure to inspire many imitators.

Perry Farrell’s Kind Heaven Orchestra/City Winery/June 14, 2019

Born in Queens, New York, Peretz Bernstein spent his childhood in Woodmere, Long Island and as a teenager moved with his family to North Miami Beach, Florida. Following graduation from high school in the early 1980s, he moved to Los Angeles, California. From 1981 to 1985, he was the vocalist for the post-punk band Psi Com, then co-founded Jane’s Addiction in 1985, adopting the pseudonym Perry Farrell as a play on the word “peripheral.” Jane’s Addiction achieved success, split in 1991, and then reunited and split several more times. Following the first break-up of Jane’s Addiction, Farrell formed Porno for Pyros in 1992 and recorded two successful albums. After Jane’s Addiction’s second breakup in 1999, Farrell released his debut solo album. After Jane’s Addiction’s third split, Farrell led the Satellite Party from 2004 to 2008. He released his first solo album in 18 years, Kind Heaven, on June 7, 2019.

Billed as Perry Farrell’s Kind Heaven Orchestra, Farrell’s nine-piece band was more than a vehicle for his new album. At City Winery, the stage setting and musical arrangements supposedly are a preview of a $90 million Southeast Asia-themed immersive experience Farrell is launching in Las Vegas, Nevada. Where the connections will be made remained to be seen, because the club performance was simply a 90-minute concert with Farrell singing all nine tracks off his new album plus a few songs from Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros. The small stage was crowded with singers, dancers, musicians, musical equipment, and white sage-grass silhouettes as stage props, while videos projected on off-stage screens. Farrell used every space afforded him to camp, sway, and jive with his band members and the audience. Between songs, the personable and somewhat daffy Farrell improvised song introductions and told meandering tales while swigging house-made wine straight from a bottle. For the most part, the set seemed free-wheeling, as the uneven new music became a backdrop for Farrell’s theatrics. The biggest disappointments were that his older songs — “Pets,” “I Would for You,” “Tahitian Moon,” and “Mountain Song” — were given a significantly lighter treatment than if they had been performed by his former bands. The show was lively and entertaining, but Farrell, please return to your harder rocking roots.

The End of America/The Loft at City Winery/June 16, 2019

James A.M. Downes first played guitar at age 10 in his parents’ house in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. He started touring after high school, while working in restaurants on the side. His first group, a punk band named Call It Arson, was popular on the New England hardcore scene in the early 2000s. When Call It Arson ended, Downes moved from Connecticut to New York City, ultimately bartending part-time at City Winery while launching a solo indie-folk project called Haunted Continents. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Trevor Leonard fronted a space-punk band (Procession Came Opposite) and an acoustic outfit (Triangle Shirt Factory), while also playing guitar in three other bands: Valencia, Punchline and the Future Perfect. Brendon Thomas, originally from Chester, Vermont, released four studio albums as Foreverinmotion. The three musicians met in 2005 when their separate projects crisscrossed on the road and they started singing gang vocals on each other’s songs. Together they formed The End of America in 2010. The trio credits the band name to Jack Kerouac’s On The Road — relating to traveling “across the groaning continent” in search of inspiration. The trio’s third and most recent album is 2016’s The End of America.

The End of America has moved away from recording albums and instead will be releasing one new song every month. Their performance at The Loft at City Winery celebrated the single “Break Away,” released on June 7, 2019, but as one might expect, the set covered plentiful terrain. Grounded almost entirely on acoustic guitars and a banjo, the performance centered on three distinct lead voices weaving cohesive neo-Appalachian harmonies over a solid foundation of folk, bluegrass, and Americana. Older folk might compare the pristine harmonies to Crosby, Stills & Nash, and younger fans could draw comparisons to Low Anthem. Cleverly planned, the trio performed alone for a while and then brought a bassist and drummer on stage for a thicker and more rocking sound. The pool of songs from the three songwriters proved rich and bountiful, but was overwhelmed by the airy, floating voices blending together organically. If this impressive unit needs any advice at all, it would be to accentuate the lyrics so they are not entirely overshadowed by the trio’s captivating harmonies.

Tatiana DeMaria/The Bowery Electric/June 13, 2019

Born in London, England, Tatiana DeMaria spent much of her youth with her family in Paris, France, where some of the older youth on the school bus introduced her to punk rock. At age 13, she started playing guitar and writing songs. Upon returning to London as a teenager, she played in several bands while in high school before forming the Camden Whigs, later renamed TAT, at age 15. DeMaria was 17 when two of the songs she had written and performed with TAT charted in the United Kingdom. After writing music for commercials and film soundtracks, she began recording and performing as a solo artist in 2018 and has released four singles. She anticipates the release of an EP and/or an album in late 2019.

At the Bowery Electric, bassist Nick Cantatore and drummer Joshua Keitt provided the rhythm backup for DeMaria’s songs. Fronting a power trio meant that DeMaria was required to do a bulk of the heavy lifting with vocals and guitar. Her strong, yearning vocal treatments brought power and passion to her personal, cathartic lyrics, and her guitar-fed interludes packed a walloping punch. Her vocal wails lean more towards rhythm and blues, however, the spines of her songs are built on party beats and climax into explosive choruses. In the years since TAT’s tours of America, DeMaria’s solo releases have grown increasingly laid back and lean more into contemporary pop genres, yet she has remained a flaming fireball on stage. DeMaria demonstrates that she has the tools with which to bridge pop with radio-friendly rock.