Chicago – Despite it being a cold and snowy Wednesday night, fans packed Bottom Lounge in Chicago’s West Loop to see Kaleo. After witnessing the Icelandic band live, I completely understood why. The four-piece indie-folk band, comprised of Jökull Júlíusson (vocals and guitar), Davíð Antonsson (percussion and vocals), Daníel Ægir Kristjánsson (bass), and Rubin Pollock (guitar), recently moved to Austin, Texas, and let me tell you, if I had’t known these men hail from that northern green island, I’d have thought them born and raised Southerners, from the good old U.S. of A!
The all-ages sold out show felt extremely low-key and inviting, as if you were hanging with old friends, at a house show, packed in a dimly lit living room. Though, the lighting was much better. Kaleo was bathed in a rainbow of lights. Sidestage three little girls watched intently, leaning over the wooden stage and filming with a smartphone. Between songs they giggled and flashed wide smiles at each other and occasionally their mother. Couples swayed together, with arms wrapped tightly in loving embraces. Up front the hardcore fans, who had waited early in line for a good spot, waved hands in the air and screamed. In the back, groups of friends – mostly bros – held beers up high, showing approval by toasting to Kaleo.
One of the best songs of the evening was “I Can’t Go On Without You.” Júlíusson whistled. People cheered. Júlíusson soulfully sang, “I can’t go on without you.” Heads nodded in approval to the seductive guitars. Rubin Pollock’s slide guitar was like another member of the band, singing along with Júlíusson, who gently picked at his own guitar.
Afterward, frontman Jökull Júlíusson said, “Please sing along if you know this one!” Kaleo broke into “All The Pretty Girls.” Fans immediately sang along. The room filled with a sense of euphoria. In that moment, Kaleo seemed to channel Bon Iver. Later Kaleo performed “I Walk on Water,” which sounded a great deal like the recent material Kings of Leon has been putting out. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kaleo were to tour with KOL sometime in the future, given their sound and similar fan base.
Halfway through the show, Júlíusson smiled and said, “I want to know if we have some people from Iceland?” Screams came from the audience. Hands raised in the air from all sides. With a look of shock, he let out an ”Oh wow” then said, “This is the only song we do in Icelandic, so just you guys can sing along.” He chuckled and then began strumming the chords to “Vor í Vaglaskógi.” Some did sing along. Everyone else stood in awe. I have to say, it was beautiful despite the language barrier. Watching the band perform under pink and purple lights, I was reminded of the first time I saw Sigur Rós. I had absolutely no clue what the songs were about, but it was surreal, almost like a religious experience, as if not needing to focus on lyrics heightened my senses. Same could be said experiencing “Vor í Vaglaskógi.” I suddenly felt a deeper connection with the band. I looked around to see how fans were taking it in. Some smiled with eyes closed. Others practically had their jaws on the floor.
Things got back to feeling like a Southern soiree when Kaleo performed “Automobile.” Again, hearing them sing and play their instruments, you’d never know the four were from Iceland and not somewhere along the Bible Belt. The audience ate it up. People danced and clapped. Afterward, Júlíusson commented on how great the crowd was. Then he warned he was ready to turn it up a bit. I didn’t think it could get anymore turnt up, but it did, with “Backdoor.” Well, at least as turnt up as a night of Americana can get.
Before closing out with “Rock ’n’ Roller” for an encore, Kaleo performed “Way Down We Go.” The audience sang with Júlíusson, “We get what we deserve.” Given everyone showed up on a cold winter night, fans got exactly what they deserved: A fantastic and heartfelt evening, filled with an amazing light show and superb music from the extremely talented men of Kaleo.
Kaleo is on tour now. This summer, the band will be playing Shaky Knees, Hangout Fest, Sasquatch!, and Firefly. A list of tour dates can be found on the Kaleo Facebook page.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.