The band Kaleo came to America in March, preceded by a modest gust of hype generated by its single, “All the Pretty Girls.”
“Girls” is an electric-folk ballad that blends the styles of Bon Iver and bands like the Lumineers or Of Monsters and Men. It’s instantly catchy and appealing and, as it turns out, fairly deceptive, too, with regard to how it represents the rest of the band’s material.
Thursday night, Kaleo opened its inaugural U.S. tour at the Tank Room, a room with a capacity of about 200 people on Grand Boulevard, several blocks south of the Sprint Center. It was the band’s first official performance since last month’s South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, where Kaleo now resides. The four-piece from a town near Reykjavik, Iceland, moved there because its management has a base there. But the city’s — and the state’s — blues tradition no doubt also played a role.
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They played “All the Pretty Girls” early in their set, second, to be exact. It followed “I Can’t Go on Without You,” a soulful ballad that bore a strong Hozier or Ray LaMontagne resemblance (and featured some deft whistling from lead singer JJ Juliusson).
The rest of the one-hour show, however, was pretty much a showcase of Kaleo’s affection for the electric blues in several styles and hues. Some of it was Texas blues, a la Stevie Ray Vaughan; some was the gritty, grimy, distorted garage-rock blues, in the vein of the Black Keys; some was homogenized, bar-band blues, like Los Lonely Boys. Even their cover of the soul classic “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” was lacquered in blues.
Juliusson has a remarkably agile voice. He can growl and yowl with authority, but also mount a firm falsetto. The band’s execution was impressive; it showed a strong command of all its styles. And if the crowd felt a bit like victims of a bait-and-switch — lured into a rock blues show by the shimmering folk of “Pretty Girls” — it didn’t show. Rather, the band was showered with appreciation throughout the set.
They returned to their folk side on “I Walk On Water,” another melodic ballad with a strong Lumineers ring to it. Then it was back to the blues, including one number that veered into reggae terrain. They closed with “Rock N Roller,” a stout garage-rock anthem that poses a question that sounds like their mission: “Do you have what it takes to be a sweet rock ’n’ roller?”
Kaleo has embarked on this tour without an album; its first full-length is due later this year on Atlantic Records. But the band has several videos on YouTube that reveal a sound that is more diverse than was revealed at Thursday’s show, some of it sung in Icelandic. Perhaps the album will reveal that diversity as well.