With the stage of the Teragram Ballroom flanked by digital screens projecting images of scorpions, Hanni El Khatib emerged in a black coat to join his band mid-song. Given that the jacket was embroidered with a white scorpion, and considering that the setting was the outskirts of DTLA, there was a positively Drive feeling — as there was also an unbridled urgency in El Khatib’s set.
Photo Credit: Mauricio Alvarado
Part of the seemingly never-ending Red Bull Sound Select series, the gig was a steal. Three bucks and an online RSVP ensured a packed house of weekend hungry music heads on a Thursday night.
Truth be told, the scorpion theme was taken from the cover art of Volume 2 of El Khatib’s EP collection, Savage Times. Divided into five parts, it comes out this month via his own Innovative Leisure label. The show — a celebration of the new project — began with new track, “Baby’s Ok,” as El Khatib confessed repeatedly, “I’m no failure, but I try.” This dark lyrical theme continued straight into “Gonna Die Alone:” “I’m gonna die alone, really alone.” On paper, these helpless cries belied the upbeat spirit of the songs, and El Khatib’s exaggerated and rubberized gestures on his Telecaster.
“Melt Me” evoked the lead into the chorus of “It’s So Easy,” as well as the same generally disconcerting filth. An early set high-water mark came during a kick drum interlude that interrupted the punky stomp of new track, “Till Your Rose Comes Home.”
As we all tumble down a post-genre rabbit hole, Hanni El Khatib is along for the blurred ride. There wasn’t one particular sound in his show that dominated others. It was a democratic affair, a cocktail of blues, garage rock, punk, with a dash of rockabilly for good measure (“Loved One”). Similarly, El Khatib can sing, moves fluidly around the stage as if wind-swept and, yes, he’s got some guitar chops; but none of these faculties exceed the next.
That said, Khatib did pull off some meaty fills like in “Loved One,” and dropped jigsaw puzzle-piece additions in “Pay No Mind” that helped birth a bonafide, flash-in-the-pan mosh pit. Electronic percussion signaled a welcome diversion into the moodier slow jam, “Come Down.”
The familiar high-pitched lead guitar in “You Rascal You,” a Sam Theard cover from 1929(!), reimagined some of HEK producer Dan Auerbach’s own commercial-ready bluesy output.
With the evening nearing its close, El Khatib threw caution to the wind and invited any and all members of the crowd up on to the stage to help with crunchy banger, “Family.” At least 50 joined the dance orgy, such that Khatib and his band mates were indistinguishable in a mosaic of human camouflage.
The words in “Miracle” served as a lyrical counterpoint to the darker musings that started the show: “It’s a miracle I came out alive….I survived.” In the obligatory, slow-it-down slot of the first encore song, the new one offered a chance for everybody to catch their breath prior to a final send off from Hanni El Khatib. “Two Brothers” was straight up Foals-ian, all the way down to a lead guitarist slogging through the audience, parting the crowd with his guitar as if it were a machete.
Hanni El Khatib:
Gonna Die Alone
Mangos and Rice
Till Your Rose Comes Home
This I Know
Pay No Mind
You Rascal You
Mondo and His Makeup
Photo Credit: Mauricio Alvarado