LIVE REVIEW + PICS: Kaleo’s polished rock & roll crushes at the Independent

03/11/2016

Last night’s sold out show at the Independent was a band you may not have heard of … yet. Unmistakably a rock & roll band, Kaleo has clearly studied its blues, gospel and country western roots. Throughout the 90-minute set, the band was effortless in the genre. From the first screams on opening number “No Good,” to drummer David Antonsson Crivello on his feet with sticks in the air to spur the crowd to its feet, from the shining sunburst Les Paul in Rubin Pollock’s adept hands and the blues-rock licks leaping from them, my head swirled with thoughts of Credence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, early Rolling Stones, the classic rock of my childhood.

Now that we’ve established that — that Kaleo is clearly a rock & roll band — I’m going to tell you all the ways that they aren’t JUST a rock & roll band. Photographer Nate Chavez and I agree: Kaleo is classic rock + Bon Iver + a boat load of polish and composure.

First, about that longing For Emma — you know, the Bon Iver style reference. Singer/bandleader JJ Juliusson’s pure falsetto was the centerpiece of the night’s (and the band’s) biggest hit “All The Pretty Girls” – and his descent into his chest voice three minutes into the song not only sent an electrified titter through the crowd, but also swept the packed room, including me, into singing “I’ll wait, I’ll wait, I’ll wait for you” in our most swooning and earnest voices. Juliusson’s switching between a Telecaster, a classic looking Gretsch hollow body, and a resonator acoustic guitar brought a lot of life to the indie-folk side of the set.

My personal favorite song of the night “I Can’t Go On Without You,” a dark and sexy broken-hearted tune, showcased Juliusson’s Andrew Bird-like whistling and vocals reminiscent of blues guitarist Jonny Lang. This song would make an excellent accompaniment to a film noir scene. I could almost see Barbara Stanwyck dramatically silhouetted, gun still smoking in her hand, murderous, despicable, and unmistakably alluring, as bassist Danny Jones rumbled the gutter inside us all.

Kaleo – “I Can’t Go On Without You” 

And yet, as I said, the band is more than classic rock and indie folk. They are from Iceland, though they’ve made the move to Austin in the past year, and to this fact I attribute an absolute composure to the whole experience. Nothing seemed out of place. No wrongly placed notes. Nothing blared or was lost in the mix. (Nashville-based Nate Pittsburgh is traveling with the band as a most effective front of house engineer). The lights (expertly designed and executed by Matt Eldridge, also out of Nashville) moved as if in unison with the music, or like the way a passenger ought to ride on the back of a motorcycle, becoming one body with the driver and the bike. They clearly choose their team as wisely as their arrangements. ‘Polished’ only begins to describe this show.

With so much composure came my only bit of criticism – while most of the band swayed and moved, Juliusson sometimes seemed stiff from my outpost at the back of the room. This isn’t your typical American rock & roller, thrashing wildly about the stage with no inhibition. But in many ways this serves the sound better. It would seem odd and disjointed if Juliusson was dancing unhinged one song and then standing still for the midtempo next.

One other song that must be mentioned  – “Vor í Vaglaskogi” – the one song performed in Icelandic (to the delight of the strong showing of Icelanders). It seemed from another era, or another mind. It was a singular piece of poetry bearing a taste of Celtic melody and melancholy. A song in another language gives a unique chance to hear the voice as an instrument instead of as a meaning-maker. The emotions must be spoken in tone and timbre and they were. Here I caught Crivello (the drummer) cooing harmonies that raised the hair on my arms. A cool and sparse song.

Kaleo – “Vor í Vaglaskogi” 

With more than 20 million listens on Spotify and a string of sold out shows on their current tour, it’s fair to say this is a band on the rise. This is a rock & roll that feels old and new. It excites nostalgia and entices innovation. Have a listen, and check out our photographer Nate’s amazing photos of the night below.

(Quick shout out to the night’s opening band Firekid, from Alabama. Their solid set (guitar and drums) was bolstered by samples played on a homemade cartridge for a Gameboy. Pop-rock songs with a country undercurrent. Find them here.)

Write up by Annie Bacon / Twitter @anniebacon
Photos by Nate Chavez / Instagram @n8chavez