If it wasn’t for Facebook this time, I might have forgotten a long-booked ticket to Kaleo at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago mid-week on March 2nd. Thankfully, notification flashed at the beginning of the week that there was something fun happening this week — otherwise, I might have found myself breathing deeply in yoga class, instead of trying to catch my breath from jumping around to some crazy awesome music.
After scarfing down dinner after an eCommerce class, I rushed from the Ashland green line stop to the Bottom Lounge. I haven’t had the chance to visit the venue yet, but it’s another one of those venue-in-a-bars that I’ve found is pretty common for Chicago. Lucky for me, the show was 18+.
Firekid, (an Alabama-turned-Nashville-based folk-rock singer-songwriting duo), kicked the night off, with a unique twist for most of the music to follow: using only his guitar and voice, eventually joined with the easy entering in of percussion (bass drum with a tambourine). Frontman Dillon Hodges stole the opening with his impressive acoustic guitar shredding, and grateful, easy-going presence. Even though the crowd at the Bottom Lounge didn’t seem super familiar with most of his material, they gave gracious head bops (so Midwestern) and cheered loudly at the end of each tune. One of the highlights of Firekid’s set was definitely when Hodges let us in on a little secret — how much of a nerd he is. “I have an instrument some of you might recognize. Well, probably not as an instrument…” he said, as he held up an old school Nintendo GameBoy, and the recognizable beeps erupted through the speaker system. “I guess that shows how much of a nerd I am. I programmed this old GameBoy to use for my music,” Hodges said with a shrug, and the duo started ripping out the next tune, “Anna Lee.” Firekid wrapped their half-hour set up with “Magic Mountain.” Honestly, this is when I finally picked my foot up off the ground, and I felt the music running through my sole. And my soul, I guess. As the pair exited the performance area, Hodges lured some of the audience toward the merch table with a lite-brite, and called out “We’re Firekid!” one last time. A wonderful, surprisingly entertaining opening act.
Ever since I traveled to Iceland Airwaves, it’s become a habit to take notes during live shows. Sometimes they don’t turn into anything, but I knew I wanted to cover this show particularly (more on that in a minute). Usually, people leave me to scribble on my memo pad… but at the Bottom Lounge, I felt a tap on my shoulder between Firekid’s and Kaleo’s sets. A woman in her “40-somethings” asked me if I was a music journalist. After I told her that no, I’m not a music journalist, I’m just a college student that is way too “into” live music and blogging, and I learned that she and her husband had traveled all the way from New Orleans for this show. They both told me how they had seen Kaleo in Mobile, Alabama; and loved them so much they had to see them again. What I found interesting, is how they described Kaleo’s music. “We’re used to hearing wannabe southern-sounding bands,” her husband was saying, “But somehow, Kaleo does it better than some of the bands that are actually from the south.”
And at 8pm, the southern blues-rock band with an Icelandic infusion finally took the stage. This group of four guys holds a special place in my heart — I did a preview story on them before Iceland Airwaves in 2014, and then I had the pleasure of reviewing their show early on in the festival that year at Harpa. Kaleo is a Hawaiian term, meaning “the sound, the voice,” and it’s probably not coincidence, because frontman Jökull Júlíusson sure has a some pipes on him. The talent in the band doesn’t stop there — Rubin Pollock absolutely shreds on guitar, Daníel Ægir Kristjánsson is the most entertaining bass player I’ve seen in awhile, and Davíð Antonsson keeps the beat pumping on drumset. How far this band has come is absolutely incredible — comparing to their show in Iceland in 2014, where they seemed really intimidated and a little scared to really let loose; maybe it was because there wasn’t any pressure or expectations to live up to, or more likely, it’s because they’ve started to really strike success since their move to Austin, and playing the big music festival South by Southwest, last spring. Since then, they’ve continued to expand their audience, with a handful of tunes being featured, particularly the song they started their show out with, “No Good” (from Vinyl on HBO).
It’s been fun watching the group gain more traction, but the magnitude of how much bigger Kaleo is going to get hadn’t quite hit me until I was in the crowd on Wednesday night. Both the stage presence and complexion of the music has skyrocketed. Júlíusson seems to have found a wider vocal range, Pollock has a lot more complicated guitar licks, Antonsson never stopped bopping his head, and Kristjánsson stole my attention a few times with how much he was dancing around. Crazy enjoyable, and it was only the end of the first tune!
The rest of the night didn’t disappoint — especially when they gave a shout-out to the Icelanders in the crowd, and played “Vor í Vaglaskógi” (my personal favorite). The setlist was also full of music that most of the crowd didn’t recognize, so hopefully, it’s safe to assume it’s off the forthcoming record. Shouldn’t disappoint current fans, and will certainly pull more people into the Kaleo bandwagon.
Keep an eye on these guys — it should be interesting to see where their talents take them next. If you haven’t heard Kaleo before, check out “Automobile.” It’s got all of their signature “things” in it: JJ whistling, Pollock shredding, and memorable lyrics.
Until next time: stay with us.