Last week’s constant rain and gloomy skies could not keep a sold-out crowd from showing up at the 9:30 Club for Kaleo on Friday night, and with the air just starting to get cold, the extra body heat was definitely welcome.
The Icelandic rock band hit the Washington venue during their international “Handprint Tour.” Despite not being raised in the geographic tradition of American folk and blues, Kaleo joins the select few non-Americans that can play our music as good as if not better than us (for those curious, the list also includes the Irish singer-songwriter Hozier.)
What stood out as the single most powerful moment of the performance came when singer/guitarist JJ Julius Son put his heart into a moving rendition of “Bang Bang (My Baby shot Me Down)” by Cher, although the cover was more in tune with Nancy Sinatra’s version of the song. The deep timbre in Julius Son’s voice shook the crowd as the refrain of “Bang Bang” echoed over the vibrating guitar before erupting into a full-band ordeal at the song’s climax.
The set seamlessly wove its way around the many styles in the band’s repertoire, which ranges from folk to blues, garage rock and even pop rock, all while still maintaining the common threads: driving guitars and Julius Son’s powerful voice. However, the group’s percussion should not be overlooked either.
Despite being placed in the back, drummer David Antonsson was the show’s MVP. Constant energy from Antonsson and long bouncing hair kept the stage electric even when the band had moved into a slower song. His passion and enthusiasm were infectious, and it was hard not to keep moving throughout the night. Antonsson also provided backing vocals throughout the show, (prominent on “Broken Bones”) and maintained his energy while singing, which was refreshing being that most of the band stayed very static throughout.
It is also worth mentioning that opener Bishop Briggs’ set was a powerful demonstration that big things are laid out for her in the future. For a musician with only five tracks officially released, her sound is not only coherent but polished. The mood was elevated by the v-shaped light system used, but the feel as a whole was slightly underground.
Flanked by the three members of her backing band, Briggs floated between her stationary partners, belting and dancing across the stage. Even though her sound contrasted Kaleo’s organic sound, the more electronic music fit the night very well and provided a nice start to the evening.
In line with the “Handprint” name for the tour, the stage was adorned with four large white handprints, but beyond that the design for the tour was “look at the band.”
Near the end of the set, the band’s hit “Way Down We Go” let the group shine on stage. Every member of the band had their moment in that song, and everyone in the audience shared that moment with them.