Kaleo at House of Blues

October 31, 2017 | By Xandie Kuenning

Icelandic rock band Kaleo performed a sold-out show at the House of Blues Oct. 16 as part of their Express Tour. Joined by two opening bands, it was a long night of varied musical styles.


Kaleo appeared on-stage to the cheers of the crowd and to the beat of “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band, which the band opened with before transitioning to their own song “Broken Bones.” Made up of lead vocalist JJ Julius Son (Jökull Júlíusson), lead guitarist Rubin Pollock, bassist Daniel Kristjansson and drummer David Antonsson, they formed in Mosfellsbær, Iceland in 2012, though they have since relocated to Austin, Texas. Their pride in their home country was apparent in the stage decor, which featured a backdrop with an aerial photo of Iceland and a number of wooden crates and pallets featuring silhouettes of the country. 


Photo by Xandie Kuenning

Their set consisted of hit after hit, mostly from their “A/B” album, starting with the slower, folksy pieces, such as “All the Pretty Girls, and gradually moving towards louder, more rock-based songs, such as “Hot Blood.”


Around halfway through the performance, Son took the time to introduce Thorleif Davidsson, also originally from Iceland, who is currently studying harmonica at Berklee College of Music on a full-tuition scholarship. Joining the band for the night, he had his own solo in “Automobile.” In the same song, Son showed off a special skill – that of powerful whistling. 


Another reminder of Kaleo’s homeland was when they performed “Vor í Vaglaskógi,” a traditional Icelandic love song and the only one they sing in their native language. Though not literally understandable to most of the audience, its emotional power transcended that limitation, making it relatable to everyone.


Though a band with plenty of songs of their own to choose from, Kaleo decided to also perform a cover of Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” They chose to make it a mellow performance that focused on the richness of Julius Son’s sensual voice.


Their set ended with “Way Down We Go,” the 2016 single that reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs and Rock Airplay charts, and then an encore performance of “Rock ‘n’ Roller.”


Two other bands performed before Kaleo; Wilder, a Nashville-based alternative rock band, opened the show, made up of lead singer Charlie Green, guitarist Ben Booth, bassist Taylor Dubray and drummer Chase Wofford. The band is new to the music scene, having formed in the summer of 2015 and with only one released song, “Same Way.”


They played a total of six songs, introducing their newest, “California,” set to be released in the next couple of weeks, around halfway through their performance. Characterized by a faster beat and higher pitch, it invigorated the crowd who danced along.


They ended their set on with “The Fire,” a song about when “life is cold and you need the fire” to start feeling the passion of living once more. On the final verse, all the band members grouped together and sang as one at the front of the stage, reaffirming the chemistry between the four of them.


Los Angeles-based artist ZZ Ward, real name Zsuzsanna Ward, was the next act to appear onstage. Though she opened with “Ghost” from her sophomore album “The Storm,” which dropped this summer, she played it safe in terms of her setlist, choosing mostly songs from her debut album “Til the Casket Drops.” In a twist of fate, her performance occurred on the fifth year anniversary of this album being dropped. 


Ward’s songs blended country music, blues, pop and classic rock, creating a unique sound that was all her own. Though this led to a fun night of music, in terms of what each band member wore and the stage decor, these different styles clashed making it unclear what the aesthetic was supposed to be. The guitarist and keyboardist wore sunglasses while slowly rocking out to the music as they played, evoking a laid-back, 80’s pop vibe. In contrast, Ward wore an outfit more suited for the Country Music Awards. 


In a show of her musical talent, Ward switched between playing the guitar, harmonica, keyboard and, at times, singing without playing any instruments herself. 


One of her best performances was “Charlie Ain’t Home,” a song created in response to Etta James’s “Waiting for Charlie (To Come Home).” The latter a song about a woman after a breakup who is waiting and hoping for reconciliation, Ward chose to instead create a story about a woman having an affair because she is done with waiting around for her man to come back. Emotion was evident in her voice and through her body language as she performed.


Ward ended her performance with “365 Days” and “Move Like U Stole It,” two fast-paced songs that got the crowd moving and increased their anticipation for Kaleo, who kept the Monday evening performance alive 


Son summed up the night’s energy when he told the audience, “It doesn’t feel like a Monday night here.”