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Review: Kaleo impresses with versatility, ballads at Knitting Factory

UPDATED: Thu., March 3, 2022

By Taylor D. Waring For The Spokesman-Review

Iceland’s premier indie rock export Kaleo brought an evening of soulful tunes to Knitting Factory on Saturday evening. Built largely around the musical prowess of powerhouse vocalist J.J. (Jökull Júlíusson), the indie rock outfit displayed an impressive array of influence and emotional awareness, with tracks ranging from Hozier-esque ballads to soulful psychedelic explosions reminiscent of Pink Floyd.

The show was supported by Myron Elkins and the Dying Breed, a young, up-and-coming Americana band from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Led by singer-songwriter Elkins, whose voice at times calls to mind Stevie Ray Vaughan and at others Joe Pug, the band performed an opening set of blues rock bangers blended with alternative country moments. Despite being only 20, Elkins writes earnest tracks with a Midwestern sense of humility and wisdom.

Headliners Kaleo brought an impressive production with them to Knitting Factory complete with background singers and a dedicated harmonica player. The band, which has been around since 2013, has released two albums and rose to notoriety in Iceland before having a No. 1 single on the Billboard Alternative Charts in 2016 and receiving a Grammy nomination for their track “No Good” off their debut album “A/B.”

The crowd roared when the Icelandic rockers appeared onstage and kicked off the night with upbeat tracks such as “Broken Bones” that reminded of a more-fleshed out Black Keys. Other standout rock tracks included “Hey Gringo” and “Way Down We Go.” During these tracks, there was plenty of energy in the air, both from the performance onstage and in the crowd.

While the band remains solidly within their indie-rock shell, their versatility is impressive. There were moments during extended versions of tracks that had some brief nods to 1970s prog rock productions. The outro to “Hot Blood” had touches of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” and the band briefly hit on Rush vibes during another jammy part between songs.

Their ballads “Backbone” and “I Walk on Water” were the standouts of the night. After a brief break, J.J. appeared onstage seated at a piano to perform “I Walk on Water.” The track, off their most recent offering “Surface Sounds,” brings to mind the blue-eyed soul of Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers but offers listeners a triumphant, uplifting conclusion.

The band closed the evening with an encore of “No Good.” The heavy, reverb-drenched indie rock track, with its Jack White-like guitar melody and four-on-the-floor drums, was a danceable number longtime fans loved. J.J. and Kaleo, with their pop accessibility and musical prowess, surely have promise for a long career ahead of them. They’re on a massive U.S. tour and have a European tour planned right after – with any luck, they’ll be back at Knitting Factory soon.

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