Electric indie rock band The Backseat Lovers headlined at 9:30 Club Feb. 28 for a crowd brimming with enthusiasm, spilling out the doors and singing along to every lyric.
The young four-member band met while they were still in high school, and it was in their town of Salt Lake City, Utah where some of their early songs first gained popularity. But four years after their high school graduation, they came to D.C. with almost 4.3 million monthly listeners on Spotify and “Kilby Girl,” their TikTok viral song that’s racked up more than 115 million listens alone.
The four members of the funky soft-rock band Over Under opened the show with an hourlong performance showcasing their three released singles, “Yellow Roses,” “Backwards Forwards” and “Time to Waste.” The lead singer Taylor Gywnn brought an eccentric energy to the stage with mannerisms of Freddy Mercury and a hypnotizing delivery of the lyrics.
The Backseat Lovers came on close to 9:30 p.m. and kicked off their set with a three-and-a-half minute lyric-less jam session showcasing the clean and powerful electric guitar that defines that band’s sound. The crowd started to head bang and dance almost immediately and screamed with excitement when this wordless jam led effortlessly into their first song “Pool House.”
The massive crowd started singing along with the first verse, a feeling the band is probably getting used to after a sold out 2021 tour and gigs at big music festivals like Lollapalooza, Shaky Knees, Ohana Festival, Life is Beautiful and Austin City Limits Music Festival.
But lead singer and guitarist Joshua Harmon said it was at a 2019 gig in Vancouver, Canada where he realized the band had fans outside of Utah.
“People had flown from other places in the country to come see us, and I just remember the feeling in that tiny, cramped space, and everyone was actually singing back to us,” he said on the band’s biography page. “It was just a really humbling feeling to know that people actually cared about [our music] outside of our circle of community and friends.”
Harmon and lead guitarist Jonas Swanson cited a wide range of musicians that influence The Backseat Lovers’ robust and edgy indie sound ranging from folk and country stars like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Tom Russell to rock giants like Weezer, Radiohead and Cage the Elephant.
Following “Pool House,” The Backseat Lovers played a 13-song set that left the audience reeling for more. The setlist included two unreleased songs, “Growing, Dying” and “Know Your Name.” And the band only departed from their setlist once to play an audience-requested song, “Davey Crochet,” from their 2019 album “When We Were Friends.”
After a brief huddle amid a “Davey Crochet” chant by the crowd, Harmon admitted they hadn’t played this song in a while and might “mess up.”
The fast-paced tempo and sublimely layered rhythm of the guitar, bass and drums disguised any hiccups they may have had and made this my favorite song of the night. The audience was head banging and blissfully chanting along to Harmon’s full-bodied performance of the angsty yet lightheartedly romantic lyrics:
“I guess there’s some things that you shouldn’t know, but I’ll tell you anyway,” the lyrics say. “And you can tell me ’bout it if you’ve had a bad day. I’ll teach you how to laugh if you can teach me crochet.”
Halfway through the set, the band performed their first release “Out of Tune,” a five-minute single with the catchy chorus, “We were just a couple posers with guitars that were always out of tune.”
While Harmon’s raspy and emotionally raw voice remained constant, the electric guitar in this song seemed to hold a lighter background than in their newer songs, with more sporadic yet stylized solos throughout. The song also alludes to the origin story of The Backseat Lovers with a lyric in the third verse:
“Started a band without a drummer or a mic,” the lyrics say. “Got a show within a week that I thought would be the show to change my life.”
Harmon played in multiple bands throughout high school but “nothing stuck,” according to the band’s online biography. But during his senior year, he started writing songs independently and soon, one-by-one tacked on his three bandmates – Swanson, drummer Juice Welch and bass player and background vocalist KJ Ward.
“I had this little collection of songs that I had never tried to put a band arrangement behind,” Harmon said in an interview.
There was a collective gasp from the crowd when the band said they only had two more songs to play – “Maple Syrup” from “When We Were Friends” and “Still a Friend” from their EP “Elevator Days.”
As soon as the band left the stage, the audience started desperately chanting “one more song.”
“Still a Friend,” while equally engaging as the rest of their set, didn’t feel like the right song to end the concert on since it’s one of their lesser known tracks. So I joined the crowd in excitement when the band came out again to play “Sinking Ship” from “When We Were Friends,” as an encore.
This article appeared in the March 7, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.