Kaleo With Wilder And The Shelters At The Wiltern, Saturday August 26th 2017
Saturday night at the Wiltern was a night of guitar-oriented music, which could have convinced everyone that good old rock ‘n’ roll is not dead. Each one of the bands that succeeded had a different style of music but they all believed in old fashioned guitar, while making big effects on a young audience.
The quartet may be from Nashville, but Wilder was not playing country music at all, not even alt country, they were going more towards an alt-folk territory with real rocking outbursts. May be the most recognizable element in their music was the lead singer’s smoky warm voice, which was aiming to a few nice high-pitched howls, to the crowd’s biggest joy. I should say that this audience was one of the most enthusiastic public I had ever seen. I was in the pit surrounded by young people, and especially by girls, who were there for Kaleo, let’s be clear (I will go back to this later on). However the emotion and the energy coming from the crowd during the entire show, was so overwhelming, so positive that all the bands received the same dose of love. Wilder gave us a very nice set of songs, which effectively got wilder as it was progressing, with nice harmonies and eruption of guitars like a medley of Kings of Leon and Coldplay, the kind of uplifting anthems that make girls raise their arms in the air. The result was often moody, from melancholic soundscapes to stormy battles, but they ended with a folksy heartfelt tune during which they all gathered around the mic, in a cute camp-fire-like move before a big explosive finale. Wilder was as direct as you could get, sincere, putting a lot of soul in their music, while using nothing else but guitars and drums.
I had already seen The Shelters a few times before but I found them particularly energetic on Saturday night… They surely put the stage on fire with their rocking furious songs,… after all, their debut album is called ‘Rebel Heart’! Their music immediately sounds familiar and it’s no coincidence if the album was co-produced by Tom Petty, who even gave them the keys to his home studio. The band also opened for Petty’s band Mudcrutch last year, which was a huge opportunity I guess, and you don’t need to be a forensic expert to find Petty fingerprints all over their music. However, the Shelters are a vibrant young band with ideas of their own, they smell denim and boot wax, and they demonstrate an undeniable love for rock ‘n’ roll, with vocal harmonies and chaotic stage moves. So are the Shelters classic rock or garage rock, nostalgia or indie rock? Probably all of the above and a category of their own. With no real frontman (as several of them sing lead vocals) and rockabilly harmonies combined with a punk-like energy, they look like a pure Southern California product and play their bluesy choruses with pride and a youthful passion. And if there is a certain 70s-80s appeal in their songs – they have been compared to the Byrds and the Kinks, an English band, that The Shelters interestingly cover on their album – most of their songs were about these big hooks that could put any guy into a girl’s arms.
When Kaleo walked on stage, it was really dark and it would have been such a waste if the lighting had stayed so low, if they hadn’t turned on the light, because frontman JJ Julius Son (Jökull Júlíusson) is ridiculously good looking. Fortunately, after a few songs, they did turn on the lights and they were only directed on him the whole time, so that I barely saw they were four other musicians on stage. It’s simple none of my pics made him look remotely bad and it was easy to make sense of all these screaming females when looking at this walking Calvin Klein ad. You could even guess the perfect abs under the white shirt, but enough about this! It’s certainly a curse to be good looking, because how can you tell anyone cares about the rest? The rest here was the music, do I need to remind you?
Kaleo is an Icelandic band, three of the members have known each other since elementary school outside of Reykjavik, and for a country that gave us Bjork and Sigur Ros, Iceland had never sounded more straightforward American blues! They did a series of foot stomping bluesy songs, fueled by JJ Julius Son’s dark baritone, which could go wild and aggressive like an old bluesman’s, and this triggered a lot of clap and sing along from the crowd. His voice was very flexible though, transforming into a high falsetto, while he was occasionally pushing wild screams like a hair metal band frontman. They also had these quiet numbers à la Mumford and Sons, with JJ Julius Son’s dark powerhouse, touching the right chord in everyone’s body.
How did this happen? How Icelandic people did end up sounding so delta blues? He was even using a resonator guitar and as there was fury and passion in their music and stage antics, he simply was a better-looking Dan Auerbach,… and there’s certainly nothing wrong with this. Despite being a very young band – Kaleo formed in 2002 – this frontman had the charisma and the assurance of an army and radio-readywas written on the uplift trend coming from most of their songs. No need to say, Kaleo has been doing very well so far, with 800,000 copies of their A/B album sold worldwide, and 500,000 copies of their single (featuring their hit song ‘Way Down We Go’) sold in the US. The girls on my right told me they had already attended the show the night before in Anaheim, but nothing could stop their drunk enthusiasm,
Beside a crooner tender moment with a sad song in their native language, ‘Vor í Vaglaskógi’, most of the rest was delta stomp stormy blues, raging and stormy, producing the biggest orgasmic effect on all these teenagers. Music doesn’t really belong to anybody and there is certainly nothing wrong by appropriating yourself a sound from a country where you weren’t born, but JJ Julius Son’s rock ‘n’ roll screams sounded as calibrated as the perfect bone structure of his lower jaw.