IT IS A RITE OF passage for artists to struggle before achieving success in the music industry: traveling from city to city, staying in cheap motels and playing cheap venues with hopes of making it big. However, Icelandic four-piece Kaleo seemed to bypass this process entirely; Kaleo’s debut single “Way Down We Go” went straight to number one won Billboard’s Alternative Radio, and was immediately featured in hit television shows such as “Orange is the New Black.” On Oct. 24, Kaleo performed at and sold out Mcmenamin’s Crystal Ballroom, as it has likewise done with the majority of the venues it is set to perform at this year.
In their Portland show, Kaleo’s setlist effortlessly alternated between various styles: a blues-rock style similar to that of The Black Keys and a folky style comparable to that of Bon Iver. Instead of opening with one of their hits, frontman JJ Julius Son began the show by whistling the intro of “I Can’t Go On Without You,” a song from Kaleo’s most recent release, “A/B.” This record was perfectly constructed to illustrate the band’s two sounds, the “A” side holding the blues-rock and the “B” side the folk and ballads. Although this opening song is on the “B” side, it provided a perfect balance between both of their styles, giving the audience a taste of what was yet to come.
Throughout the show, the members of Kaleo created an invigorating yet tranquil atmosphere through their sincerity. Unlike opener Bishop Briggs (known for her singles “River” and “Wild Horses”) who attempted to entertain the audience by stiffly dancing around the stage, Kaleo seemed to connect with the audience on a deeper level. They enticed their listeners through their own absorption in the music; their enjoyment from performing was more than apparent, spreading to the entire audience and creating a rich energy throughout the ballroom.
Their performance also made another fact brutally obvious: Kaleo does not over-Auto-tune. The live renditions of their songs sounded exactly the same as the recorded versions, arguably better with the added energy from playing in front of a live audience. Midway through the show, radio hit “All The Pretty Girls” excited the crowd even more. Radio hits often disappoint when heard live, however, this song did much the opposite. Hearing such a well-known song being played identically, some may say better than, how it is heard over the radio further validated Kaleo and their talent.
The band demonstrated their use of varied dynamics when slowing down to play traditional Icelandic love song “Vor I Vaglaskogi.” As frontman Son explained to the audience, this is the only song the band sings in their native language. Because the song is now being performed to a predominantly English-speaking audience, the band intends for the song’s meaning to be left open to the interpretation of the audience, as they feel all songs should be. Throwing this song into the setlist reminded listeners of the band’s unique, isolated upbringing and showcased their authenticity in a new light.
Seeing Kaleo live proved that their fast and seemingly effortless rise to fame was well-deserved. The band members possess legitimate talent and devotion to their sound, or rather, varieties of sound. A wide audience can enjoy Kaleo’s music since it does not limit itself to one genre. Hopefully, this ability to appeal to a variety of audiences will help pave Kaleo’s path to success in the future.