Author: Annie Borse
Saturday October 7th proved to be another on-and-off again rainy day in Madison, but as concertgoers lined up outside the Orpheum, they were spared of any sudden downpours. Instead, the cold air and grey clouds that overtook the sky served as the perfect predecessor for the dark and moody sound of Kaleo that awaited them all inside.
Wooden shipping containers, a large array of guitars that would make any musician jealous and an enormous tapestry featuring the outline of Iceland decorated the stage as the house lights went down. Opening with Broken Bones, we were thrown straight into the gritty blues sound that Kaleo has come to be known for, but this wasn’t the moment that made me stop and really recognize how talented the band was.
It was when a red light illuminated the band from behind, and the ominous whistles of the song Can’t Go On Without You began to filter through the theater, that suddenly, the chill of the outdoors was brought inside. As JJ Julius Son, the leader singer, solemnly strummed his resonator guitar and sang the first notes of a song drenched in heartache and pain, I couldn’t help but be completely silenced, a reaction shared by almost everyone in the crowd. A voice like his, one that is so distinctly emotional and expressive, carries any song and any band. This situation was no different.
Standing in the middle of a crowd mixed with overly excitable super fans decked out in every piece of Kaleo merch they owned, drunk girls that could barely stand (or realize that they were falling over onto a woman in a wheelchair, yes, this actually happened) and the average “I’m hip” Madison Baby Boomer, it was easy to get annoyed at your surroundings, and trust me I was very annoyed. The atmosphere and the fans were definitely not what I was hoping for and I was honestly pretty disappointed in the entire experience of being there, but when Kaleo stepped on stage and when Son’s voice echoed through the theater, those annoyances faded (but they didn’t fade for too long because those super fans started screaming and ruined a beautiful moment, thanks guys).
These moments of crowd displeasure didn’t mitigate the fact that Son had one of the most captivating voices I had ever heard. Even knowing which lyrics were coming next as he sang, I was hanging onto every word as if was hearing them all again for the first time. It was like being in a gravelly voice induced trance and I did not want it to end. They played their big songs like Automobile and No Good, but out of them all, All the Pretty Girls, sounded even more beautiful and sad in person than on any recording.
The band as a whole was a group of incredibly talented musicians that put on a concert that showcased their wide range of musical strengths, whether it was the bongos or the guitar. Their album does not do their live performance justice at all, which means that to see Kaleo at their best you need to go see them live, a task that might involve too many drunk concertgoers, but it’s a risk you should be willing to take.