Review: Kaleo opens Red Butte Garden’s season with soaring vocals

The Icelandic blues-rock band and opener Bones Owens kick off this year’s summer concert series,

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Red Butte Garden kicks off their Outdoor Summer Concert Series with KALEO, an Icelandic alt-rock band on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.

If you were around Red Butte Garden on Wednesday night, chances are you heard Icelandic blues-rock band Kaleo’s soaring vocals echoing in the distance — thanks to lead singer Jökull Júlíusson, whose live voice was equal parts raspy and smooth.

The band — a quintet made up of Júlíusson, guitarist Rubin Pollock, Daniel Kristjánsson on bass guitar, drummer Davíð Antonsson and Þorleifur Gaukur Davíðsson on keyboard — brought their ‘Fight or Flight’ tour to Utah two years later than originally planned, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the show opened Red Butte’s summer concert season.

Wednesday’s show was the first of 30 in the venue’s summer concert series. Of those 30 shows in the lineup, 20 already have sold out.

“We’re really happy to be back playing live music again,” Júlíusson told the crowd between tracks. He added that being outside in a venue like Red Butte is a “treat.”

For those unfamiliar with the band, Kaleo’s popular hit “Way Down We Go” was featured on the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” and took off on TikTok. The band opened the show with “Way Down We Go,” reeling in those who might not be super fans with its hypnotic chorus.

Kaleo released its debut album, “Surface Sounds,” in 2021 — but the band had already racked up the miles touring internationally, and that experienced showed in their set.

Opening act Bones Owens, an alternative artist with a country flair, also released their debut self-titled album last year. Their set was more low-key, but the crowd enjoyed it as much as Kaleo. (At one point, Owens stopped to joke about the bees fluttering around the garden, saying he didn’t think he was allergic.)

Both acts made for the type of slow blues rock, with a groovy sonic vibe, that Red Butte concerts are known for.

It’s music perfect for swaying and drinking, without being too engaged. That’s not a knock to the quality of the live sound, though, and Owens also jokingly asked the crowd if they were enjoying their wine spritzers on a hill on a Wednesday night.

The warm weather, along with Red Butte’s iconic views, made for a successful season opener. By the time Kaleo came on, audience members were shrugging into jackets and the people in lower seats were headed closer to the stage.

Some audience members were clearly already Kaleo fans. Some were wearing the band’s t-shirts, and sang and even danced along to the music. As the headliner’s set went on, more and more people began to pay attention.

From the sync of the lights to the big sounds made for outdoor amphitheaters — drums, harmonica solos, guitar and bass lines — every aspect of the show fell into perfect place. Everything from the performers made an impact. Even the band’s two female backup singers stood out on their own. Each member had a distinct part in every song, and live, they were flawless together — a big feat for a band on their first big U.S. tour.

With all the moving parts, the most memorable part of the night will be Júlíusson’s Hozier-like vocals. He has the type of voice where, he can sing anything, and you’re inclined to believe it. And when it’s backed by such a strong instrumental presence, it’s golden.