KALEO• May 18, 2022• Red Butte Garden Amphitheater
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
May 18th was the opening night of the Red Butte Garden Outdoor Concert Series. KALEO was the band to do the honors of opening the acclaimed series. KALEO hails from Iceland, but their music screams American Delta Blues. They did not start this series off with a whimper. If the rest of the upcoming concerts are anything like this one, we’re in for an excellent summer at Red Butte.
In a way, it almost felt like the first day of school. Or maybe the first day of summer camp. There was excitement walking through the gates, into a familiar place I hadn’t been in a while. There were the same people at Will Call, the same security guards, the same people handling press, and many of the same patrons that attend the concert series year after year. It was like catching up with old friends who I hadn’t seen “over the summer” or “throughout the school year”. Many hugs were exchanged and conversations were had about what we’d been up to. It was so fun to see everyone again.
After I made my reunions, I began to look around and I noticed that I was not the only one having this experience. People were reuniting all over the venue. It was a perfect night. Clear skies, cool crisp air, but not too cold, and the audience seemed so excited to be back inside Red Butte Gardens Amphitheater to begin this incredible summer series.
When I told people that I was relatively unfamiliar with KALEO, I was looked at with contempt. “You don’t?! I would have thought you’d love these guys. How do you not know them.” Well, I get it now. The moment the band walked out and began playing, my first thought was, “How was I unfamiliar with these guys?”
The set began with “Break My Baby” from the 2021 album Surface Sounds. People were clapping and swaying immediately. It’s impossible to not notice first the voice of frontman, Jökull Júlíusson. Or “JJ” as he will be referred as from now on. So soulful, so rock so gritty. But also with the versatility to be soft, sincere, and pointed. Matching JJ’s amazing voice was his incredible guitar. The song and performance got the show off to a great start. People were ready for this and the moment the opportunity was there, they went for it. They simply could not stay seated. And I don’t blame them in the slightest.
JJ wasn’t the only skilled member of the band. All of KALEO packed a powerful punch of talent. I had such a hard time believing these guys were from Iceland and not Muscle Shoals. They were dripping with the Blues. Everyone looked like they were having such a good time on that stage and it poured out to the crowd. A song like “I Can’t Go On Without You” displayed not only JJ’s impressive range and vocal versatility, but it also showcased the band, the backup singers, and a great song. People couldn’t hold back. I was watching the audience and Woos and Whistles would impulsively leave their mouths. As if their body needed to react in some way to what it was feeling.
There wasn’t much interaction between KALEO and the audience. Sometimes an audience can disengage when that happens. But I didn’t notice that here. It seemed like the music was enough to keep communication between the stage and the crowd strong. I think songs like “Hey Gringo” and “Alter Ego” kept fans dancing and fired up enough that they didn’t need stories or banter from the stage.
Midway through the show, I moved to the upper level of the Amphitheater. I thought I’d kick back, take notes on the show and just soak in the music while I sat down with a Diet Coke. Well folks, that was impossible. I for one could not stay seated. For two, I didn’t want to be away from the action. So I moved to the side patio on the east side of the stage. I had to be in the mix. I needed to take in this amazing band while amongst the die-hards who were on the patio singing, dancing, and totally letting loose. It was a good place to be!
There was a moment in the show when KALEO moved from the hard-driving powerful song “Hot Blood” to a more toned down but equally as soulful, “Brother Run Fast”. It was really cool to see the seamless transition between two very different songs. Phone lights came out, arms swayed and the consistent vibe of the night stayed strong. The show continued with “ I Walk on Water” another soulful intense but ballad-like song. I wondered if the band felt like the crowd needed a break from the harder songs. Maybe we needed to regroup for the final push. Before we moved on from the slowed down portion of the night, the band played the beautiful “Vor í Vaglaskógi”, sung in the band’s native Icelandic. The audience roared at the conclusion of the song.
The crowd was rewarded with an amped-up conclusion to the night. Songs like “Skinny” got people back to their feet, and “Way Down We Go” elevated them into the sky. Heads thumping along with the beat, voices singing the “oh, oh, oh, oh”s. People in my section of the patio were moving freely, taking videos, and trying to capture the moment the best way they knew how. There is just something about this music. You feel it so deeply. It almost possesses you. You’re body moves to these songs. Sometimes without even noticing.
KALEO left the stage and returned to finish the night with the perfect closer, “No Good”. This song is so gritty. It shows off everything that is great about this band. The pulsing beat, the gravely vocals, and shredding guitar set the Red Butte audience into a frenzy. I heard the guy next to me say, “JJ is amazing! Powerful voice, huge range, tiny body. He’s from Iceland. They don’t grow things very big there.” It made me chuckle. What an odd compliment. But the guy was not wrong. The slender frontman has an incredible range and his voice is tremendously powerful.
I cannot believe I hadn’t heard KALEO before this night. I will assure you that this experience of seeing them live has ensured that I’ll be extremely familiar with them the next time they come to Utah. I’ve been listening to them ever since and get why Red Butte Gardens Amphitheater was sold out for this show. If you haven’t heard KALEO before, do not hesitate. They’re an excellent band.
Next up on the Red Butte Garden Outdoor Concert Series linup is She & Him. They will be performing a tribute to Brian Wilson. You can purchase tickets here.