Arts & Culture, Featured

Icelandic Band Kaleo Rocks House of Blues

“It sure doesn’t feel like Monday night here,” said JJ Julius Son, the lead singer of Kaleo, as the band came back out onto the stage for an encore performance at the end of their concert this past Monday.  In fact, it being a Monday night didn’t stop Kaleo from drawing a sold-out crowd to Boston’s House of Blues, which has a capacity of about 2500 people.
In terms of raw musical talent, this was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended.  Opening band Wilder (pictured to the right) kicked off the show with an indie rock set that combined softer acoustic parts with louder electric guitar arpeggiating and soloing, as well as the big, gritty voice of frontman Charlie Greene.  Lead guitarist Ben Booth really surprised me with his technical skills and precision.  Wilder is a relatively new band from Nashville, and they have a single out now called “Same Way” that’s available on Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer.

ZZ Ward took the stage next and played soulful and bluesy rock with an enormous stage presence.  She was accompanied by her bassist, drummer, and guitarist/keyboardist, and she also played acoustic guitar and even some harmonica.  Probably my favorite part of her set was her song “Charlie Ain’t Home,” which she said is her response to Etta James’ “Waiting for Charlie.”  ZZ Ward (pictured to the left) released her first album in 2012 called “Till the Casket Drops,” which immediately started gaining national recognition.  She’s even been likened to Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Etta James by the New York Times.  That was the second time I’ve seen her perform live, and yet I was still surprised at how well she can sing.

The cheers were deafening as Kaleo, the headlining band, finally came out onto the stage.  As they started to play, it was glaringly obvious to me how talented JJ Julius Son, the band’s frontman, is.  I got chills from the way his gritty and nuanced voice filled the entire room, and pretty soon he showed off his falsetto screaming ability comparable to Steven Tyler’s.  During the song “I Can’t Go On Without You,” I heard the guy next to me comment,
“This guy whistles better than anybody I know, by far.”  JJ (pictured to the right) used a resonator guitar (like this one) on many of the songs, which provided a very unique, jangly sound, and he even sported a custom “JJ” Red Sox jersey on stage under his leather jacket.

Kaleo, which also includes talented instrumentalists David Antonsson, Daniel Kristjansson, and Rubin Pollock, is originally from Iceland, but they’ve lived in the U.S. for the past few years.  All of their songs are in English except for one called “Vor í Vaglaskógi,” which is in Icelandic.  Thorleif Davidsson is also a member, but he’s taking a short hiatus to study harmonica at Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship.  Since Berklee is here in Boston, though, we were lucky enough to see him perform with the rest of the band on Monday, and he’s probably the best harmonica player I’ve ever heard.  They showed their versatility with everything from hard rock anthems like “Hot Blood” and “No Good” to beautiful, sweet-sounding ones like “All the Pretty Girls,” as well as songs like “I Can’t Go On Without You” and their famous “Way Down We Go,” which can be described as huge, haunting, bluesy, and mellow.  According to their website, the name of their 2016 album A/B is a nod to this duality in their music in how the first side of the record is more rock-n-roll, and the second side is more of a ballad.

Overall the concert was an intriguing and fun combination of loud, edgy, soulful, and beautiful, and I highly recommend seeing Wilder, ZZ Ward, or especially Kaleo if you have the opportunity.  See below for more awesome pictures courtesy of Trish Jackson.


Photos courtesy of The Rock’s photo editor Trish Jackson ’20

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