Review: The Backseat Lovers Are Barely Old Enough To Drive, But Are Talented Well Beyond Their Years

The Backseat Lovers‘ Major label debut Waiting To Spill dropped into my inbox a few months ago and I was immediately struck by two things: a) how had I never heard of this band (?!), and b) how unusual is it for a Major to release an album by an incredibly young group that seems to actually be, you know, a working band? Some digging uncovered that the group had a couple decent Spotify hits, but they didn’t have the kind of footprint you’d expect from a group being groomed for the Majors. Which meant a real, new band focused on their music and not their influencer status might have somehow infiltrated the Major label system again!

The Backseat Lovers hail from Provo, Utah and the band is so young that when they talk about 19-year-old women in their 2019 breakout-ish hit “Kilby Girl,” the band members were all writing that from the vantage point of a crush on an older woman. But their new album Waiting To Spill doesn’t sound like something a bunch of teenagers dreamt up, instead standing as a pretty remarkable artistic effort. To me it’s odd to hear a band so young sound so thoroughly developed, so I dug through their catalog and discovered that while their 2018 debut EP still sounds remarkable, 2019’s LP When We Were Friends feels overly cautious at times, and a half-step backward to me. But this excited me—those are earmarks of a band finding its way instead of a band just refining a proven sound!

And what a sound! I know it’s supposedly poor form to whip out a RIYL (Recommended If You Like, for any unfamiliar) in a review, but in this case the band really does sound like the lovechild of Them Yorke, Conor Oberst, and Wilco c. Summerteeth / YFH, with a dash of Paul McCartney thrown in, especially when they need a rolling piano part that’s got some pop panache to it. The most interesting thing is that The Backseat Lovers are a group so young that all of its influences could justifiably be viewed as “classic rock” by its members, so the net result is a band that has internalized all these influences instead of parroting them. This band doesn’t worship its idols, it grew up on them being so pervasively in the background the band just absorbed them.

So when the band announced a Chicago date I knew I had to exit my pandemic hermitage and see if they were the real deal who could pull it off live or just a really talented studio band. Last Thursday, November 10, I got my answer.

The Riv was packed on Thursday night, which meant I was going to get a chance to hear the band live, but would only occasionally get a glimpse of them. The Riv’s sight lines are pretty nonexistent if the show is at or near capacity—something I had completely forgotten over the 3 (?!) years since I was last there. But the sound system is usually more than up to the challenge of submerging you in the music. Unfortunately, The Backseat Lovers favor a more intimate sound mix, which probably works great in most rooms, but in a multi-level room with tons of obstructions like The Riv, it sometimes served to muddy the group’s sonic efforts. On future tours, I think if the band added a little more punch to the mix to separate the instruments, it would only help them since the intricacy of some of their songs would benefit from that clarity.

Photo by Allyson Lowry

Yet it was still a great show!

While The Backseat Lovers might have only recently come to my attention, the venue was packed by fans deeply familiar with the band. As in, singing along so loudly to many of the songs that it was at times difficult to hear singer Joshua Harmon’s actual vocals. And believe you me, that was AWESOME as most of the kids in the room gleefully let their voices rip, adding a choral feeling of community to the proceedings, and elevating the experience. And the band sagely split the set up, playing Waiting To Spill in its entirety before moving on to a mini set of “hits” mostly pulled from When We Were Friends. I can tell you this—the new material was sung along to and received just as rapturously as “the hits.” I confess I had forgotten how wondrous it can be to be surrounded by so many people paying such close attention to a band, while enthusiastically engaging with every song.

As the band’s encore of “Sinking Ship” gave way to bright lights and canned music from the venue as everyone slowly (and dazedly) made their way towards the exits I realized I had the answer to my question going in: The Backseat Lovers are both a really talented studio band and the real deal that can authentically, organically, and compellingly pull it off live. They’re the best of both those worlds, and I am newly excited to see what they do next. You should be too.

Jim Kopeny / Tankboy
Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Tankboy resides in the body of Jim Kopeny and lives in Mayfair with Pickle the Kitten and a beagle named Betty (RIP) who may actually be slightly more famous than most of the musicians slogging through the local scene. He's written about music for much longer than most bands you hear on the radio have even existed.