In the last few years, an unlikely corner of America has seen the emergence of a burgeoning indie scene. Tucked between the snowy peaks of the Rockies, Salt Lake City has become a hotbed for indie music ranging from electronic pop to hard rock. Leading the vanguard of the region are The Backseat Lovers, a rock quartet whose songs like “Kilby Girl,” “Maple Syrup” and “Sinking Ship” have attracted substantial attention nationwide.
After a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Backseat Lovers are playing their first major cross-country tour this year, which included a stop at Ann Arbor’s The Blind Pig. Before the Backseat Lovers, I had never seen a concert at The Blind Pig, so I really didn’t know what to expect from the venue or the band, whose music I knew pretty casually. Needless to say, I was completely blown away by what I witnessed that evening.
The venue, just small enough to be intimate without sacrificing the feel of a legitimate concert, played to the strengths of The Backseat Lovers’ performance style. Their songs, which in their recorded forms lean heavily on staccato drumming softly overlaid against string instruments, were totally guided by the drums in the live performance. The drums were just as loud, if not louder, than the other instruments, and in the small venue, the reverberating sound created a palpable energy. Additionally, solo riffs and instrumental breaks sounded much more electric in the live setting, and frontman Joshua Harmon’s stage presence was impressive. His emphatic prancing around the stage, coupled with his otherwise unassuming and shy disposition, provided the crowd with energy boosts seemingly every song.
Another advantage of a band as popular as The Backseat Lovers playing a venue that small is that every fan who managed to score themselves a ticket was incredibly invested. Sometimes in a festival atmosphere, many spectators who only know one song find themselves at a performance and take away from the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd. At this show, the audience had no such problem, with the crowd often singing over Harmon on the choruses of their bigger hits. The instrumentals and crescendos of the band’s songs were accentuated live, and every song felt even more emotional than the recorded versions.
The band opened with the power ballad “Pool House,” which got the crowd both singing along and filled them with energy for the rest of the night. The audience was also trying to engage with Harmon the whole night, whose sheepish demeanor in between songs proved that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Other standout tracks from the performance included “Kilby Girl,” which Harmon barely even needed to sing (the audience was louder than him anyway), and the encore, “Sinking Ship,” which proved to be one of the most emotionally charged numbers of the night. The manner in which the band transitioned from intense, soulful ballads to fun, jam-based garage rock on a seemingly song-to-song basis was deeply impressive.
While the energy of the crowd was the most important factor in the show’s electricity, the band reciprocated the crowd’s vigor through the vibrancy of their solos and the passion of their instruments. The Backseat Lovers will certainly be playing larger venues than The Blind Pig, but these bigger audiences may not be able to recreate the boundless enthusiasm of a crowd of 400 in a packed bar.
Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.