Way Down We Go: Kaleo Live

The Bowery Ballroom; New York, NY; February 24, 2016

by Melanie Love

Nothing says Wednesday night like a little rock ‘n’ roll, and this tight, rollicking set by Icelandic foursome Kaleo was more than worth braving some torrential rain. Kaleo (made up of drummer Davíð Antonsson, bassist Daníel Ægir Kristjánsson, lead guitarist Rubin Pollock, and Jökull Júlíusson on vocals and guitars) has been stateside for about a year now, and I’ve been following their single releases like a trail of breadcrumbs toward rock greatness for what feels about as long. They’ve been building a quietly steady buzz for awhile now and seem poised to break through, being tapped as one of Rolling Stone's up-and-coming acts to watch and seeing their single “No Good” featured in the commercial to the new HBO show Vinyl. So, grabbing the chance to see these guys headline at the Bowery Ballroom in New York before they blow up was a no-brainer.

Opener firekid (aka Dillon Hodges) got the crowd warmed up with his unique blend of bluegrass and pop. His sound pairs warm, enveloping country-tinged melodies with glitchy electronic beats, putting a modern and engaging spin on this intersection of genres. A few fun facts: Hodges is the second-youngest person to ever win the National Flatpicking Guitar Championship, and he’s recently begun releasing what he calls “chiptunes,” 8-bit covers of popular songs programmed using a Game-Boy. If you like to get down with some good genre-defying tracks, definitely check out firekid’s recent full-length debut!

kaleo_640And now, for the main event. From the moment they took the stage, Kaleo held the crowd in the palm of their hands. If I could describe the Kaleo sound, I’d liken them to a mix between the blues-rock of the Black Keys, with the anthemic quality of Mumford & Sons, and a little Bon Iver-esque tenderness thrown in.

And what I’m loving most about the band is their ability to transition seamlessly between styles, which has been showcased in their handful of single releases thus far. Show opener “No Good” is muscular, throbbing rock ‘n’ roll, Júlíusson occupying a vocal space somewhere between Robert Plant and Steven Tyler; “Can’t fight the temptation when you get the vibration / Won’t do you no good,” comes his energized yowl as the guitar cascades around him.

But they’re just as effective on the quietly lovely, mid-tempo ballad “All The Pretty Girls,” all delicate falsetto vocals and softly strummed acoustic guitar. By the song’s end, it morphed into a full-bodied swirl, and the crowd joined in to form a singing, swaying mass along with them. One of the standout moments came early in the show with new single “I Can’t Go On Without You,” which positively drips in bluesy gloriousness and lovelorn swagger. “They thought they were made for each other / Only thinking of one another / Never thinking for just one second / She could take a different attraction” begins this slow-burning cut, an instant crowd pleaser. Pollock’s guitar soloing here is particularly sublime, but every band member has a chance to shine in this six-minute epic.

Over the course of their tightly packed set, the band hit us with a cover of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang,” their gently plucked first-ever single, sung in their native language (“Vor í Vaglaskógi”), and of course, “Way Down We Go” as a closer. It’s a perfect entry-point into Kaleo for the intrigued listener, a big, stomping bluesy track; Júlíusson’s full, wide-ranging voice just screams classic rock frontman, but he’s understated enough to let the rest of his crew showcase their own considerable skills.

This reviewer has two big thumbs up for Kaleo, four Icelandic newcomers who aren’t bound to be under the radar for very long. And for any New Yorkers (or for those passing through), the Bowery Ballroom is a perfect venue to let some good music take you in for a memorable night.

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