Live Review: Kaleo - Roundhouse, London - 01/11/2017
There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about seeing an artist perform at Camden’s Roundhouse. Steeped in music history it’s one of those venues where you’re guaranteed to have a good time even if you’re feeling a bit dejected. On a dark and chilly November evening, a night of good music is just the tonic to blow away the Halloween cobwebs and get stuck in to the gorgeous and raucous sounds that await.
On arriving at the venue, the queue outside was snaking for as far as the eye could see. The headline show from Icelandic rock/folk/blues behemoth’s Kaleo was sold out. For a band that formed in 2012 the road to fame has been swift. The childhood pals from a small town just outside of Reykjavik, took off in 2013 with the help of YouTube when their live radio cover of an old Icelandic ballad, ‘Vor í Vaglaskόgi’, went viral. Since then, their single ‘Way Down We Go’ has made headlines, having been featured in various tv shows and on the soundtrack for the film Logan. The band recently opened for the likes of The Lumineers and The Rolling Stones, and are now full steam ahead on their Express Tour.
My gig buddy and I were a little late to arrive at the venue so missed out on seeing Billy Raffoul, however we did catch the second support act, Judah & the Lion. Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee they came on stage guns blazing. The lead singer, Judah Aker, who had a passing resemblance to the late Kurt Cobain, was dressed in an all-white tracksuit, white-painted nails and white bug-eye glasses. He strutted across the stage like a gazelle and made an effort to connect with the crowd with chants of ‘hey, ho, let’s go’ as a prelude to their second song which showcased the band J-setting in a chorus line, à la Beyoncé in the ‘Single Ladies’ video. It was unexpected, and drew some laughs but it was awesome.
The song titles elude me but the gusto with which the songs were performed was dazzling. Judah & the Lion are full of energy: there were high-kicks, crowd-surfing, an epic cover of ‘Mr Brightside’ by The Killers as well as a disappearing act. Safe to say, the self-proclaimed ‘weirdos’ won the crowd over.
Left spinning on a high, we were hyped for the main event. As must have been the guy that oversaw the smoke machine, for we were faced with something out of Wuthering Heights. It was like ‘The Fog’ but in real-life (minus the zombie pirates). Notwithstanding, Kaleo took to the stage and launched into their bluegrass belter ‘Broken Bones’. As the performance advanced it felt as though lead singer, JJ Julius Son (dressed in a very fetching fringed leather jacket) looked distant and uninterested with the eager crowd, saying no more than a few words to the audience. I guess he didn’t need to, the songs and his resplendent resonator guitar, spoke for themselves.
Slow-tempo ballads, ‘I Can’t Go On Without You’ and ‘Save Yourself’ sounded beautiful and brooding with the dreamy guitar riffs sprinkled with delicate banjo ripples. If you closed your eyes, you were transported to the prairie wastelands of Missouri or somewhere in the era of Bonnie and Clyde. Evocative to say the least. In contrast, upbeat tracks like ‘No Good’ and ‘Hot Blood’ brandished the band’s aptitude for all-out lashing rock anthems. The bassist, Daniel Kristjansson, captured my gaze with his enthusiastic energy during ‘Back Door’, peacocking across the stage like a coiled spring, injecting some oomph into the audience.
A highlight of the hour-and-a-half strong set was a haunting and powerful cover of ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’, originally penned by Sonny Bono in 1975. JJ’s gravelly yet evocative vocals over the primal guitar and forceful drums left you feeling moved. It was stunning. The night ended with ‘Way Down We Go’ and raucous ‘Rock n Roller’ which left everyone pumped.
For a relatively new band, they’ve come a long way and I can’t wait to see what heights they can reach. Be sure to catch them while you can before it’s too late!
Review by Marijana Mladenić and Photography by Rachel Prew