The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band: Thais that bind

The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band | Mark Thompson photos

There’s something a bit grand about this group’s name, considering there are only five members, and after watching their performance under a blazing hot sun at the Field of Heaven on Sunday, you get the impression that they have a lot of fun with expectations. After all, they are essentially three traditional Thai instrumentalists backed by a rhythm section that is seriously into funk. 

The allocation of parts seems fairly simple. The electrified Thai lute, the pin, is the lead instrument and does pretty much what a guitar normally does, while the pipes fill in for synths, keyboards, and strings. The guy on the finger cymbals isn’t going to take the drummer’s job away, but he wasn’t chopped liver, either.

But it was the rhythm section, especially the bass player, Piyanart Jotikasthira, who not only formed the melodic bedrock but also provided English language explanations of the songs. He would say the title of the song in Thai and then translate it into English (“This is called ‘Tricky Little Deer’,” though I wonder if it was actually titled “Tricky Little Dear”?) One of the most dramatic songs they played was called “Chasing the Cow,” which he said was a song about farmers. Never realized farm life was that exciting.

But it was the funk that got the crowd moving. When they started, there was only a handful of people in front of the stage, but by mid-point the whole field was rocking and grooving.

The lute player, Pinpech Thipprasert, has got to be both the Jerry Garcia and Ray Parker Jr. of his particular instrument, because there were passages when he was wailing, and that immovable back beat just kept pounding and pounding. The pipes would often add counterpoint on the off beats, like the organ fills in the old JBs. You come for the exotic, slightly misleading name, and you stay to get down.