A feathered microphone center stage. A sheet hanging in the back with a photograph of the arctic tundra of their original homeland, Iceland – a welcome sight on a hot night. These were unique stage decorations I was not expecting from Kaleo at their Summerfest performance Saturday night. These decorations, along with the lighting, kept things interesting.
The light breeze off the lake came in handy for keeping the crowd cool after the excessively hot Milwaukee day. After I sweat my skin off the night before at Summerfest, it was nice to get a break. While there was still heavy humidity, it wasn’t unbearable.
Opening with "Broken Bones" went along perfectly with the red-orange stage lighting and smoke. I’m not sure if it was planned or not, but guitarists Daníel Ægir Kristjánsson and Rubin Pollock were wearing black and white striped shirts, looking like they were in jail. When Jökull Júlíusson sang, "The devil's going to make me a free man / The devil's going to set me free," it was perfect, going along with that theme of imprisonment.
The four-person band moved from Iceland to the U.S. and was inspired by the unique landscapes. The resulting hybrid of rock, folk and blues produces a sound similar to the Black Keys.
And the band has just been getting started. They all got together in 2012, naming their band after the Hawaiian word Kaleo, which means "the sound." I realized from this concert that I had been pronouncing it wrong the two years I’ve been a fan. It’s not "KAY-leo", it’s "kuh-LAY-o." They have two studio albums, "Kaleo" released in 2013 and "A/B" in 2016, as well as an EP, "Glasshouse" released in 2013.
After the red hot devilish lighting, the stage transitioned into white light. "I Can't Go On Without You" started with Jökull’s whistling and a slow, steady beat. It wasn’t until "All The Pretty Girls" came on that the crowd finally started visibly getting into the music. Fans sang along to the slow-paced, sweet and somewhat sad lyrics. As the band has two sides to their album "A/B," one being rock and roll and blues and the other being softer with more ballads, this song definitely fit into the ballad side and gave fans a break from the aggressiveness of "I Can’t Go On Without You." I also couldn’t help but notice Jökull’s antique-looking resonator guitar, the circle of metal in the middle shining in the light.
After "Fool" and "Save Yourself," the band played "Automobile" – including a nice surprise as a harmonica came in, something different from the original recording. But I have to say one of the best parts was when they played "Hot Blood." The crowd was going wild: people clapping, bouncing back and forth, and lights even turned on overhead the audience. This lighting highlighted the movements of the audience and got them going even more.
One thing that was distracting was the standup lights, however. They were a neat concept: multiple pillars with lights surrounding the band members on stage and the sizes, shapes and colors of the lights changed throughout the concert. It was cool and added to the overall mood of the event. During "No Good," the lights flashed near one or the other guitar player doing brief riffs, bouncing from one end of the stage to the other as they switched off playing. That was a cool effect.
However, they were starting to get so bright, they were blinding, starting around the time "Hot Blood" was on – and they didn’t really get any dimmer for the rest of the concert. They just changed colors or frequency of when they turned off and on. I looked at the LED screen on the side of the stage to see the band and what was going on on stage instead. I would say the stand up lighting hindered my ability to enjoy the songs as well as I could have.
During "Backdoor," Daniel jumped up and down excitedly and Davíð Antonsson yelled to the crowd from his drum set, encouraging the audience to clap and get grooving. That got the crowd roaring.
Later, while the band was playing "Rock ‘n’ Roller," it started to rain a little. The rain helped the humidity go down – and it wasn’t until the concert was entirely over that it was a light shower, which was lucky.
"Way Down We Go" was, of course, the last song, finishing the concert with a bang. Everyone was singing along to the well-known and beloved song. If there’s one song you are familiar with by Kaleo, this is it. When the band left quickly afterwards, telling the audience to have a good night, I knew there had to be more.
The encore song, "Glass House," came, but very shortly after the band exited the stage. The audience didn’t have to work for it or wait long for the four men to come back on stage. I’m not complaining, because I’m sure there were people out there who were tired and in a hurry to get home, but I think the last song could have been better enjoyed if the audience had to work for what they were about to hear.
I enjoyed this concert and loved swaying to the beats. "Way Down We Go" was unforgettable, and the pulsing energy of the crowd was electrifying. But for future concerts, I would suggest better, less-blinding lighting for Kaleo performances and to maybe make the audience work harder for the encore song.
"I Can't Go On Without You"
"All The Pretty Girls"
"Pour Sugar on Me"
"Rock ‘n’ Roller"
"Way Down We Go"