“Wait,” read a striking neon red sign that took center stage as the lights dimmed in Oakland’s Fox Theater on April 24. An allusion to The Backseat Lovers’ latest album Waiting to Spill, the single word signaled the band’s new, evolving sound.
When We Were Friends, The Backseat Lovers’ first studio album was released in January 2019, over 3 years ago, with singles “Kilby Girl” and “Pool” sitting at 227 million and 57 million streams, respectively, to date. A cohesion of indie, pop and rock tunes, the American band has been curating a unique sound since 2018, when they formed as a group in Provo, Utah.
Consisting of lead vocalist Josh Harmon, lead guitarist Jonas Swanson, bassist KJ Ward and drummer Juice Welch, The Backseat Lovers have showcased their ineffable charm through their nostalgic instrumentation and introspective lyricism. Throughout the night, the band appeased fans with popular tracks such as “Pool House” and “Maple Syrup,” while also making room for some hidden gems.
At approximately 9:07 p.m., waves of ambient red lighting were sent scrolling through the backdrop, as though beckoning The Backseat Lovers’ entrance. Against the dim walls of the Fox Theater, the contours of the members’ silhouettes were cast into sight as they entranced with “Silhouette,” the first track on Waiting to Spill. Paired with intricate, acoustic guitar strumming, the letters of the clever neon sign remained ingrained in the audience’s minds with the first word of the song: “Wait.”
The second song on the band’s setlist, “Pool House,” sent the crowd swaying to each syllable of the chorus, which details a particularly awful party experience: “Wait inside/ I’ll be fine/ I guess I’ll sit outside/ While you change your mind.” Throughout the course of the track, members of the crowd even formed circles, dancing around to the effortlessly contagious lyrics Harmon crooned.
Grungy, lively and electric, Swanson’s strumming paired perfectly with Harmon’s delicate vocals, while Ward and Welch served as the backbone of the track’s momentum. As one of the first interactions with the audience, Harmon earnestly gestured for the crowd to give thanks to his band, saying, “They’ve just been so lovely.” And indeed, the dreamy atmosphere of the night was undeniably shaped by the perfect synchrony between The Backseat Lovers’ vibe and the complementing stage lights.
To elevate the entrancing melody of “Slowing Down,” members of the audience began to clap along. The vibe of the room became much slower and softer than before, with the hazy red lights continuously reflecting into the crowd.
“Your purple sweater’s sitting in my room/ I tried to wear it, but I knew that it would smell like you,” Harmon crooned in “Maple Syrup,” his saccharine vocals more candied than the track’s title. Jaunty, sharp guitar notes gradually gained more momentum as the stage lights turned purple, once again cleverly accommodating the lyrics.
The Backseat Lovers got vulnerable with their departing song of the night, “Snowbank Blues,” as Harmon sang about mental health and performance anxiety. “Just because I’m smiling doesn’t mean that I am/ Smiling for myself/ Take the stage and put the mask back on the shelf,” he sang, drawing attention to touring anxiety and the difficulties that arise with trying to maintain a public image. Despite this, the band put forth a charming, euphonious act for the night.
As the band prepared to exit, the audience collectively chanted for “one more song.” The fans asked, and The Backseat Lovers delivered, dancing back on stage for a double encore of “Watch Your Mouth” and “Sinking Ship.” Throwing his guitar into the air and catching it instinctively, Swanson perfectly captured the vibrant and fervent energy of their performance.