Following a steadily escalating trajectory across the past 16 months in New York City, the Backseat Lovers performed a gig at the 1500-capacity Webster Hall in February 2022, then the 1800-capacity Brooklyn Steel in November 2022, and now two nights at the 2,200-capacity Hammerstein Ballroom in June 2023. New York is not the only city responding this way.
While the band is building its reputation as a live band, its initial success came from self-released recordings shared via the internet. Formed in 2018 in Provo, Utah, the Backseat Lovers quickly released an EP, Elevator Days. In January 2019, the band released its first studio album, When We Were Friends, which featured “Maple Syrup” and “Kilby Girl.” The latter song reportedly garnered more than 200 million streams. The band released its major label debut album, Waiting to Spill, on October 28, 2022; that album includes popular tracks “Growing/Dying,” “Close Your Eyes,” and “Slowing Down.”
The audience on night one of two at the Hammerstein Ballroom was overwhelmingly young and mostly female. Ironically, the band’s performance seemed more eclectic and experimental than what would normally attract such a youthful audience. Vocalist/guitarist Joshua Harmon, guitarist Jonas Swanson, bassist KJ Ward, and drummer Juice Welch began the performance by building a shape-shifting ambient instrumental, much of it guided by angular guitar leads. The lighting on stage was dark red, so dim that only silhouettes of the musicians were visible.
As the concert progressed, a soft pop wash came in fairly consistent waves, dreamy and trippy, except when Swanson raked the groundwork with gritty yet melodic guitar leads. While the melancholic sound was prevalent, the band also escalated tempos and tore into high-intensity crescendos. Ambitiously, the band briefly avoided the safer route and ventured into discordant sounds, eventually returning to its more common soft pop.
The audience cheered and sang along to the lyrics of familiar songs, which came intermittently. The lyrics were pensive and Harmon’s mild yet passionate delivery made them seem sincere and confessional. Often throughout the performance, however, the exuberant audience sang so loud that the fans could not have heard Harmon sing.
The stage lights became brighter in time and the audience finally got a good look at the musicians they came to see. The audience saw four musicians intensely immersed in their musical instruments, playing with sound textures to create sometimes eerie and clashing sounds that somehow leaned to the fringes but remained part of the fabric of the Backseat Lovers sound. The band then rallied the audience with gentler melodies and familiar sing-along lyrics. The band closed the main set with another extended and intricate alternate-rock instrumental jam.
In the end, the Backseat Lovers proved to be a curious indie-rock band. Elements of the show catered to the youth who wanted to sing along to lyrics that they had taken to heart. Other elements showcased a band that was exploring both atmospheric and experimental sounds. The Backseat Lovers are a band that parents can enjoy with their young adult offspring.