REVIEW — Backseat Lovers Created Nostalgic Psychedelia at Mission Ballroom

With lyrics as raw as a freshly skinned knee at the skatepark, Backseat Lovers create nostalgia to the point of time travel. The rock band quartet builds a comforting sound, moving through your ears like the first time your parents played Coldplay or The ShinsBackseat Lovers brought this enticing sound to Mission Ballroom in high demand this spring with a new opening crew, Free Range.

With a self-identified indie folk sound, Free Range brought a calming presence with classic indie coffee shop vibes. With Sofia Jensen on lead vocals and guitar, Jack Henry on drums and Bailey Minzenberger on bass, energy bounced between the musicians. Blue and purple lights blended across the backdrop and shifted in cool waves.

Lead vocalist Sofia Jensen.

The packed ballroom swayed in time with feel-good jams and mellow emotional melodies. Each song took time to wrap itself around the listener, with tones perfect for a melancholy solo drive or a peaceful evening with close friends. With a soft acoustic close, Free Range and crew said goodbye for the night, closing their first show with Backseat Lovers on the tour with joy.

Jack Henry on drums with Free Range.

As Free Range departed, the crowd began to pack closer to the stage in anticipation. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen echoed through the ballroom and nearly the entire crowd participated in the iconic rock ballad. 

The audience erupted as the Backseat Lovers casually made their way on stage. Jonas Swanson (lead guitar/vocals), KJ Ward (bass guitar), and Juice Welch (drums/background vocals) began to build the ambient and slow-growing instrumentals to “Silhouette,” the first song on the 2022 album Waiting To Spill. With the warmth of an ember-filled fireplace, red light oozed from the stage with smoke crawling across the high ceiling. A pale spotlight shined over Harmon as the eerie vocals joined, evoking shrieks from the crowd.

Lead vocalist Joshua Harmon.

Letting the waves of the initial song settle, the band looked out to the buzzing audience. Textures moved on the fabric backdrop, shifting with tempo changes and shimmering in a dreamlike mirage. “We are going to play a bunch of songs that we made,” Harmon teased, “shall we!?”

Fans sang along like a fifth band member, nearly drowning out Harmon’s voice on one of the group’s most popular songs, “Pool House.” Despite their somewhat softer sound, Backseat Lovers are unafraid and unashamed of dipping into high-intensity, even discordant, moments of emotion. “Pool House,” which taps into the pure angst of an attempt to suffer through the complexities of young socializing, draws on the side of listeners who can say “I’ll be fine,” and bear it. “You’re gonna be just fine,” Harmon adlibbed reassuringly as the crowd wailed through the song’s cutting lyrics with deep feeling.  

“Growing/Dying” continued the emotional rollercoaster and fans showed just how many lyrics they knew by heart. More ambient chords rippled through the smoky air, and spotlights blew up shadows of the musicians onto the backdrop. With a quick highlight of some impressive whistling skills, a fresh foggy light rose out of the stage over chaotic instrumentals. With a whisper of the first line from “Close Your Eyes” the crowd was back on their game, belting every word.

Backseat Lovers

KJ Ward on bass.

“Thank you for all your kindness. I can feel it.” smiled Harmon before dropping into a Galdalf-like impression of a father passing down a story that’s been told for generations. “Killby Girl” rocked the ballroom, building emotional explosions, both cathartic and raw. 

“Maple Syrup” transformed into a full band jam session with erratic yet smooth tempo changes through snippets of their well-known melodies. This experimental blend showcased each musician’s abilities and the harmony the group has built musically. As psychedelic as indie rock ever gets, Backseat Lovers demonstrated a deep love for the psych and classic rock sound that their music has evolved out of. This indie sound with roots in rock is very reminiscent of another Denver favorite, Peach Pit. 

READ: Peach Pit Was the Punk Show You Didn’t Know You Needed

Recovering from the musical journey they had just created, Backseat Lovers thanked Denver and said their goodbyes. The band waved and saluted fans, only riling the crowd up even further. Before long, Harmon returned for a solo acoustic encore, calming the ballroom with a showcase of his smooth vocals. Swanson joined on keys for “Words I Used,” another emotional ballad that lay over the crowd like a pale twilight in the chilly fall. Quieter emotions ran through the crowd, only to explode again when the song closed. 

Backseat Lovers

Jonas Swanson on keys.

“One more!” Harmon rejoiced and matched the audience’s energy as the full band joined the stage. “Alright all you goofy goobers, we will be back as soon as we can. This song is called ‘Sinking Ship.’”

Backseat Lovers will be back in Denver as promised at Endless Sunshine this September. 

All photography by Maya Boustany