Last seen in Vancouver in May, holding their own in an opening slot against the Black Angels at the Commodore, Hanni El Khatib and his coterie of ne'er-do-wells proved themselves worthy of a triumphant headline return this evening. They worked a modest Sunday crowd into a rolling rock simmer as they laid down their monster, stadium-sized riffs in the mid-level venue, shifting from '50s R&B to '60s pop rock to '70s Southern rock with liberal PBR lubrication, swilling cans of the iconic brew between tracks.
It was clear to hear why Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produced their recent album, Head in the Dirt. They have that Bo Diddley/Chuck Berry twang nailed, albeit filtered through the early Beatles with Robin Trower grandstanding. They've got the dirt to churn the rock club, the sheen to appease the Billboard charts, and the swagger to fill the arena circuit.
Although he tours with a capable crew of bassist Ron Marinelli, drummer Daniel Michcoff (of the Tijuana Panthers), guitarist/keyboardist Hayden Tobin, and a classic roadie with a "Can't Stand Losing" hat, El Khatib is certainly the star of his own show. The Los Angeles resident of Palestinian and Filipino descent has the boyish good looks of Ron Livingston circa Office Space, with the notable difference that El Khatib loves his job. He worked his Gretsch Electromatic Duo Jet guitar like it was a voodoo ritual, and his assembled trio supported him every part of the process.
The boys could play tight and light or fast and loose at the drop of a hat, particularly hitting that icky thump on "Loved One" from 2011's Will The Guns Come Out. This was the TSN turning point of the set, where Tobin got his chance to really shred on guitar, Michcoff used all of his corner strutting and knee-bending, nodding or shaking his head to himself while wearing a look of detached calm, and El Khatib ate up the rest of the stage like a cannibal holocaust.
Before the end of the set, El Khatib's ferocity would blow a string on his guitar, forcing a switch to a black back-up Gretsch with the name "TEX" stickered in house address lettering onto its body. The break didn't slow him down in the slightest, as he powered through the Wolfmother-esque closer "Family" and returned solo for the encore that wasn't on the set-list, a brick-crumbling version of "House on Fire," for which his band returned to join him mid-song to drop the hammer, finishing the night on a high.